- January 13, 2016
A series of kidney transplants has cemented a bond between two families that is bound to last a lifetime.
Winter Garden resident Richard Thomas had struggled with kidney disease his entire life, but it still was a shock when he learned a few years ago that he would need a new kidney. Emery Bock was born prematurely with multiple cysts in her kidneys and, at age 4, was on the verge of dialysis.
Both received successful kidney transplants Aug. 19 at the AdventHealth Transplant Institute —Thomas from Emery’s mother and Emery from Thomas’ wife. Dr. Michael Angelis assisted in all four surgeries.
The two families came face to face for the first time Monday, Nov. 23, during a press conference at the hospital. Tom Johnson of AdventHealth TV explained the paired transplant, which is when two or more living organ donors swap to make a compatible match.
“Sometimes these matches are done nationally or regionally, and while we’ve done paired transplants before here at AdventHealth … this one is special because it involves a child, 4-year-old Emery.”
AdventHealth also was celebrating the fact that it’s the first time all parties have been patients at the hospital.
“To have it in one hospital where all the patients are being taken care of, it’s pretty exciting for us,” Dr. Angelis said.
Hallie Thomas was disappointed to learn she wasn’t a match and couldn’t donate an organ to her husband.
“I obviously wanted to jump in and come to his rescue,” she said. “For me, that was my way of trying to get involved and help — and I think it really worked out.”
Richard Thomas said it was tough to put into words his emotions following the transplant.
“I’m always ready to go to her rescue and do all that I can, and for her to do that — my wife loves to work out, and she loves play soccer, but she can’t really do that anymore,” he said. “So, for her to make that kind of ultimate sacrifice really says a lot.
“On the other side, it doesn’t happen if their family isn’t willing to give as well,” Richard Thomas said. “I’m eternally grateful for all they have done.”
Although Hallie Thomas wasn’t a match, she was ready to sign up for the paired exchange once they found out the other patient was a child. Hallie and Richard Thomas have a son the same age as Emery.
“It didn’t matter what was involved,” she said. “It was a process, and thankfully the process panned out exactly how we wanted it to be. In turn, it helped Richard and it helped another family too, so we got best-case scenario.”
All four patients are recovering and healthy.
“My heart goes out to this little girl who’s had to go through so much … but (I’m) so happy that this is one step for her to live a happy, healthy life, as all 4-year-olds should,” Richard Thomas said. “It’s done just so much for our family, not getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go to dialysis. Pre-COVID, my son was going to play soccer and I wasn’t going to be able to go to his soccer matches, so those little things like that.
“I don’t really have to worry about them anymore because of her willingness to give,” he said of Emery’s mother, Jamie McKenzie.
McKenzie signed up for the paired transplant after discovering she and Emery’s father, Robert Bock, weren’t compatible.
“I would have donated directly to my daughter, no questions asked, but the fact that I get to help out another family (who) is at the same time is helping my daughter — thank you guys so much,” McKenzie said. “I’m glad you could help us and we could help you. It’s going well, and I’m glad it worked out this way.”
Dr. Angelis said the biggest challenge in a paired transplant involving a child is finding the right match.
“People want to donate, but you want to make sure the child gets the best kidney possible so it will last,” he said.
He also used the meeting as a chance to urge people to sign up to be organ donors.
“I think whenever you can help someone, that’s the best thing you could ever do in your life,” he said. “Whether it’s signing your organ donor card … or being active about that you want to donate to someone.”
On Thanksgiving Day, these are two families who are grateful for the second chance at life.
“I’m thankful that we get this opportunity to meet them, to shed some light on organ donation, having our story heard,” Hallie Thomas said.
The families are planning a bigger get-together when COVID-19 is less prevalent.
“We have so much in common,” Richard Thomas said. “We have a 4-year-old, they have a 4-year-old. … A piece of Hallie is part of their family, and a piece of their family is in our family. It really means a lot.
“For as long as I have this kidney, for as long as I’m alive, that family and that gesture is going to mean a lot to us,” he said.