Published on April 26, 2022 | For 30 years, Klee Kleber and Craig Gile have been friends. Like the estimated 600,000 adults in the United States, Klee has autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD). And Craig’s remained a steadfast friend on his journey with PKD. Together, they’ve even walked side by side at the Walk for PKD. Early in 2021, Klee mentioned that his kidney function was beginning to deteriorate; a transplant was needed. In order to understand the transplant process, Craig asked him questions. He quickly realized the wait for a transplant from a deceased donor can be extremely long. Generally, too long. So, Craig asked Klee about the living donor program—was it something he could do? Surprised, Klee said, “Well, yes, it is. If you’d be willing to try.” On December 16, 2021, Craig officially became a living donor to Klee.
Today, Craig’s sharing his story in becoming a living donor.
Deciding to Become a Living Donor
I asked many friends [who were doctors] about the process, including a family member who’s a nephrologist. The feedback I received was that it’s a wonderful program, can be life-altering for the recipient, and that, if anything, they over-screen to ensure donors don’t put themselves into health jeopardy by signing up. When people ask me how I decided to do this, I tell them in some regards it’s selfish. I didn’t know how I’d live with myself watching my good friend’s health deteriorate knowing I could’ve at least looked into how I could help.
My family and friends have been remarkably supportive of me doing this. When we told our three sons I was looking to donate, my wife, Maureen, said something that still makes me choke up when I think about it. “The lesson from this is that you should live your life in such a way that if something like this were to happen to you, someone would offer to do this for you.”
The Living Donor Process
The screening process was thorough, entailing multiple blood tests and a full work-up at the transplant center. They did a great job of explaining the process and answering all of our questions. I’ve been fortunate to have good health and that, plus the fact that I exercise regularly and have a pretty healthy diet, made me a good candidate for donation. I’m very happy I was in a position to donate my kidney. Klee has been a great friend for a long time (and would remain one regardless), but there’s certainly a new bond between the two of us and our families.
Thankful for Living Donors
“PKD is a ‘doom disease.’ What I mean is, it’s usually diagnosed early in life and follows a consistent and depressing path, affecting multiple generations within families. I always knew that I would end up like my father, whose experience I saw firsthand. The medical community perpetuated this sense of doom since there were no treatments that could alter the disease’s course. It was ‘straight to dialysis’ and the end of a normal life for me and my family.
As my kidney function failed, every thought my wife, Brigid, and I had was against this backdrop of doom. The sinking feeling that planning for the future is futile. The only real hope was obtaining a kidney transplant. However, with a 10-year wait for a deceased-donor transplant, the only practical way forward was having someone step up to be a living donor.
Thankfully, my younger brother, Joe, generously donated in 2016 and gave me a new lease on life. Unfortunately, the transplant process is full of uncertainty. In 2018, that kidney went through a rejection, eventually failing in 2021. The sense of doom returned…but not for long. Before Brigid and I even started the process of finding another donor, Craig offered to give me and my family this new gift of life. Through all the medical testing and uncertainty around the transplant process, Craig was stalwart that “this is going to get done.” Even as my wife and I’d falter and start thinking about worst-case outcomes, Craig’s, and his wife, Maureen’s, positivity would pull us back on track and give us hope. That support meant the world to us. I feel fully recovered from surgery and I have a new life to live thanks to Craig and his family. We’re blood brothers now!“
—Klee Kleber, Transplant Recipient
Now, it’s been a few months since the surgery. Were it not for a small scar below my belly button, I wouldn’t know that we’d done this. The recovery process did take a few weeks, but really wasn’t bad at all. I had a lot of quality couch/TV binge time.
If not for my relationship with Klee, I would’ve been unaware of the opportunity to donate a kidney. I guess I kinda knew it happened, but I assumed the deceased organ system took care of supplying the organs. I’d like to help in any way I can to increase awareness of this opportunity and all that the process entails.