Family friends Jeff Stephen and Jenny DeBoo share something more than friendship. Last year, DeBoo donated her kidney to Stephen.
A year ago, Jason DeBoo and his two teenage daughters paced the halls of IU Health University Hospital – awaiting word that all was well. Their wife and mother, Jenny DeBoo was in surgery with Dr. John Powelson, donating a kidney to her friend Jeff Stephen.
Jason and his daughters – Kaylee, and Kenzy, wore bright green t-shirts supporting Jenny’s decision. The girls’ shirts read: “I knew mom when she had two kidneys. I knew Jeff when he had junk kidneys.” Jason’s shirt read: “I have her heart but Jeff has her kidney.”
Jenny DeBoo met Stephen three years ago when her daughter and Jeff’s niece played softball together. It was at the softball field where Jenny learned of Jeff’s diagnosis – polycystic kidney disease (PKD). The inherited disease causes clusters of cysts to form in the kidneys. Stephen was diagnosed in 1997. The disease progressed and in November of 2015 he began hemodialysis.
“I was so interested in the fact that living donation was a thing and I was excited to learn more about it,” said DeBoo. “I was like many, many others and just wasn’t educated on it.” Over time, the DeBoo family spent more time with Jeff, his wife, J’la and their son Jett.
“We became closer and they became members of our ‘camping crew.’ Through camping and every day life they became part of our family,” said Stephen. And as his disease progressed, Stephen began having heart issues. He needed a new kidney. Different family and community members were tested but there was no match. There are than 100,000 people in the United States are awaiting a kidney transplant. There are more people awaiting a kidney than there are donors.
“I decided I wanted to try, not knowing my blood type or anything, except that I felt completely healthy,” said DeBoo, from New Paris, Ohio. “I discussed it with my husband and two daughters and put serious thought, prayer, and discussion into it. My family was 100% supportive and I was hooked and determined to donate to our sweet friend, Jeff,” said DeBoo who worked with IU Health transplant coordinator Kelly Coffey.
“The first time I spoke to Kelly she was so patient, kind, positive and made sure I knew she was 100% on my side and an advocate for my well-being and health,” said DeBoo. The life expectancy of a patient receiving a kidney transplant more than doubles. A living kidney donor helps reduce the time a patient is on the transplant wait list; a living kidney is typically healthier than one transplanted from a deceased donor.
“Patients receiving a kidney from a living donor have a better one-year kidney survival than those receiving a kidney from a deceased donor,” said Dr. Powelson. Any healthy adult 18 or older who is mentally and socially capable can be a living kidney donor. They may give directly to someone they know or through non-directed donation. DeBoo was a perfect match for Stephen.
As DeBoo’s family waited for her surgery, Stephen’s family waited for updates on his transplant. On June 14, 2017, Stephen received one of DeBoo’s kidneys in a surgery performed by Dr. William Goggins.
“The whole transplant staff was amazing. The doctors were just incredible and caring,” said Stephen. “I’m pretty sure the transplant nurses are angels straight from heaven. We could never thank them enough.”
A year after the transplant as DeBoo and Stephen posed for pictures with transplant coordinator Coffey, they wore their own green t-shirts. DeBoo’s read: “Jason has my heart but Jeff has my kidney.” Stephen’s read: “Jason may have her heart by I have her kidney.”
Stephen had another message too: “I feel 10 years younger. I couldn’t be more grateful to my friend.”
And DeBoo’s message: “Before this experience, I wasn’t even a donor on my license. Living donation has changed my life in so many positive ways. I always tell my friends, family and even strangers that ask how I’m doing, that if I had 10 kidneys I’d give them all away and I don’t have a single regret from making this life-changing choice. Seeing Jeff so happy, healthy, being able to just chug a bottle of water, or even coach his 5-year-old son’s t-ball team makes my heart so happy.”
— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.