One family, three kidney donations to save a loved one

Son gives mother third kidney donation at University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor

Sandy Webster is thankful for the men in her life.

"I think I'm just surrounded by some really strong guys. My dad, my husband, my son. Hopefully that's it," said Webster.

Webster said she hopes to never need another person to donate a kidney to.

"I was diagnosed with Henoch-Schönlein purpura when I was 10, and it affects your kidney filters. It's an autoimmune disease and at 13, I went on dialysis for six months," said Webster.

Webster's father, Ernst Kuthe, donated a kidney to her in 1977.  She was 13 at the time.

"I would do it all over again.  No question," Kuthe said.

Webster vividly recalls what she went through to receive that first kidney.

"I remember the first week, right after surgery, you had to lay on your back and you were not allowed to move. And every day they gave you shots. So, they would roll you on your side, give you the shot, and you were laying down again. So the first seven days were on your back, the next six months you were in the hospital. That was a long time," Webster said. "I think it was the three months in the hospital, then three months in a self-care unit."

The kidney donated by Webster's dad worked for 18 years. In 1995, Webster was told she needed another new kidney.

Seven years prior, she had given birth to her son Christopher.  The pregnancy took a toll on her body.    

Her sister was a good match to donate, but then became pregnant and was unable to be Webster's donor. So Webster's husband Christopher donated one of his kidneys, the week after Valentine's Day.     The couple shared their story with Local 4 on Valentine's Day in 1995 to get the word out about live organ donation.

"I don't even think it was a conversation. I think, literally, it wasn't even a question. He was just ready to go," Webster said. "That was really special."

"It's really easy. Having one kidney has no effect on you whatsoever. You have so much function in one kidney, it can last you way more than what you need," Christopher said.

He said can still do everything he wants with only one kidney.

"The only thing I have that I even know I donated a kidney was a scar. And I have a lot of fun with that when I'm out in Hawaii. I joke around and tell people a shark bit me when they ask me," said Christopher.

Their son, also named Christopher, said he was too young to realize what was happening, but later he realized how incredible it was that his dad gave his mom a piece of himself to survive.

"For these two, growing up it made a world of difference to me," he said.  "I grew up with a huge respect for organ donation.  I realized from such a young age how big of a difference it can make in saving countless others lives."

"I was able to have a mom because of it," he said.

Sandy Webster lived a full life since receiving her husband's kidney 20 years ago. During that time, the couple moved from Howell to Hawaii.   Their son grew up, went to college and became a teacher.

But her kidney function started to fail over the last two years and Webster was told she would need a third kidney donation.

"I think there was about 15 potential family, friends that called to be screened to see if they would qualify.  A lot of them did," said Webster. "The only one that bubbled out to the top was my son."

Both Webster and her son recall the conversation when he told her she could have one of his kidneys.

"I didn't ask him. I think he just came right forward and said, 'OK, I'm ready. I'll do it,'" Webster said.

"I don't think she said anything for about five minutes. She was busy crying. She was just overjoyed," her son said.

Webster tears up talking about the gift her son is giving her by donating one of his kidneys.

"My son is giving me a quality of life that will allow me to finish my career. It will allow me to retire. It will allow me to see grandkids. It will allow me live the rest of my life," Webster said.

Her son, said he was always going to donate a kidney to someone.  He is thrilled his mom is the recipient.

"I've grown up always realizing just how important it was, so just the fact that she needed another one and that I'm lucky enough to be the one to give it to her," said her son. "She will always have a piece of me. I can't even express it."

As the father and husband, watching this third transplant happen, Christopher Webster has his own perspective.

"Looking at Christopher, I remember when he was a little premie.  He was born premature, I could hold him in one hand and now here he is full-grown man donating a kidney to his mom and just the years that went by and how amazing the miracles that have happened," Webster's husband said.

The transplant surgeries were performed on April 3 at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. It's the same hospital where Webster's husband donated his kidney to her in 1995.

The younger Christopher's surgery was first in the morning, and afterward Dr. Michael Englesbe found Webster in the waiting room.   He told her the surgery went well and that he had a beautiful kidney for her.  He even took a picture of it to show her.

"It's an awesome kidney, really optimistic it should work well, a long time for his mom," said Englesbe, a transplant surgeon at U of M. "I'm hopeful this should get her another 20 years."

The kidney is definitely working well.   Webster told Local 4 she began to feel the difference with her son's kidney within the first 24 hours.

"I could feel that the toxins in my system started coming out, that the blood was getting clear I produced a lot of urine. The doctors were excited and so those are good words to hear from a physician," said Webster.

"When you have kidney failure there is a lot of fatigue. Your body just feels (like) it's holding the impurities in your system and toxins from foods you eat and things you drink, and once your kidney functions and that clears out, I can think clearer, I can see clearer. It's hard to explain.  It's just such a great overwhelming feeling. I feel really good, much healthier," Webster said.

As for Webster's son, he said he was surprised how easy it was to be the kidney donor.

"I didn't expect it to be as easy as it was. There wasn't a whole lot of pain thanks to the pain medication.  Even afterwards, the pain, every time the doctors or nurses asked me to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10 and the most I gave them was a 3 and when I would rolled over the wrong way or something like that it would be a 4," the younger Christopher said, adding he is overjoyed that he was able to give his mother the gift of life.

"It's just phenomenal.  Being able to help her out like this, being able to really help someone in their time of need and have it be your mom on top of it is just incredible."

Webster's husband said this third donation will bring their family even closer, if that's possible.

"Just knowing all three of us gave Sandy a kidney there is just a bond, there is a bond there that is even tighter than what its already been," the elder Christopher said.  "It's kind of like a little club."

"We have a great family.  We're very grateful," Kuthe said.

"No better gift," Webster said.

The Webster family wants more people to know about being a living organ donor.

For more information on organ transplants, check out the University of Michigan Transplant Center.

For links to join the organ donation registries, click here.

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