Video Gaming Leads To Kidney Donation

A single kidney forever connects two online video gamers.

Their gamertags are “NovaSpartan06” and “FlecherdsNasty.” They knew little about each other outside their virtual world – other than they both liked playing video games. That is until FlecherdsNasty, or Robert “Trace” Phillips learned  NovaSpartan06 or Davide Lewis needed a kidney donor.

At that time, Phillips was living in Seattle – about 2,300 miles away from Lewis’ Indiana home of Clarksville. Phillips, 25, was born and raised in Southern California and recently moved back with his wife of five years. After high school he enlisted in the Marines for four years and then transitioned to Microsoft where he’s worked as a Premier Field Engineer for the past two years. It’s a job that involves a lot of travel.

“I’ve been playing video games since I was old enough to hold a controller and playing online since I was 12,” said Phillips. “With the nature of my job – traveling a lot – it’s sometimes easier to have online friendships than in person.”

Lewis is one of Phillips’ consistent game partners. A graduate of Jeffersonville High School, Lewis was in the sixth grade when he was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy. Also know as Berger’s disease or synpharyngitic, the kidney disease results when an antibody (immunoglobulin) becomes lodged in the kidney. IgA deposits build up and damage the kidney tissues. According to the National Kidney Disease Foundation the causes for IgA are not clearly known but it can result from an outside irritation such as a virus. According to Foundation statistics, there are more than 3,000 new patients awaiting kidney transplants each month. Every 14 minutes someone new is added to the transplant waiting list.

On February 28, 2018, Lewis, 24, became a recipient of Phillips’ kidney. IU Health’s Dr. William C. Goggins was his surgeon. He remains in the care of Dr. Muhammad S. Yaqub, a nephrologist with IU Health.

Over the years, the two men found they had more in common than gaming. While Phillips enlisted in the Marines, Lewis was active in the ROTC. Like Phillips, Lewis took computer classes in hardware and software. And like Phillips, Lewis has been married to his wife April for five years. The couple has one daughter Addison, 4 and a second child on the way.

The two men met face-to-face through a mutual friend and Phillips decided to pay Lewis a visit – traveling across country. He spent a week with his friend and a couple days after returning home, he decided he wanted to donate his kidney to Lewis.

“We actually joked about his kidney failure a lot, and I didn’t actually even think about donating until he brought up his blood type randomly in conversation,” said Phillips. “That’s sort of when it clicked for me. I know that O- is a one-way street and so I asked about the whole donation process and what would be involved for a donor.” Things clicked from there.

“To me it wasn’t about why I should – there are plenty of reasons to donate. I didn’t see a single reason why I wouldn’t donate a kidney,” said Phillips. “My life has been exceptionally blessed and honestly I feel grateful having an opportunity to give to another and spread the love. Davide has a beautiful family and I know that if I was in his shoes I’d hope to be given the same generosity, and I’m just happy that he can live life to its fullest.”

For Lewis, life has been a whole lot better since the transplant. He’s gotten a job as a meat cutter for Sam’s Club – a better job than he had before. He enjoys hanging out with his wife, daughter and his sister Cassandra and yes; he still enjoys playing video games. He’d eventually like to get into video streaming.

“I can’t thank Trace enough for what he did for me,” said Lewis. “I’ve had a lot of support from family during my kidney failure and it’s just great to finally make it through the transplant and feel good again.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
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 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.