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Man gets perfect gift fromCHP student

by Prentiss Findlay
Of The Post and Courier
For 15 years, Michael Cheeks of Spartanburg needed four-hour kidney dialysis sessions three times a week. On Dec. 17, Cheeks received the gift of a kidney from a good Samaritan—a stranger.
“Just real speechless. Nervous, but speechless. I’m still taking it in. It’s really overwhelming, just to get my life back,” Cheeks, 33, said Dec. 16 in an interview.
Zachary Sutton, 28, of Seneca donated a kidney to Cheeks. They met for the first time Dec. 16 at MUSC
“I’m a normal person. I’m not a saint,” Sutton said. His interest in organ donation began as a kid when a classmate’s younger brother was hit by a car and fell into a coma. The parents decided to donate their child’s organs. He watched his late grandmother, 89, suffer with kidney failure. “That kind of sealed it,” he said.
Sutton, who is studying to become a physician’s assistant, had two final exams Tuesday at MUSC in addition to his pre-operative checkup. For a healthy person, donating a kidney is “relatively safe,” he said. “I know there’s definitely a risk. To me, the risk is so small compared to the benefit.”
Dr. Prabhakar Baliga transplanted the kidney. “It’s most uncommon for a complete stranger to say, ‘I’m willing to donate a kidney.’ I think it’s the ultimate gift of life,” Baliga said.
Cheeks graduated from Broome High School in 1993. He played fullback on a football team that went undefeated his senior year. His athletic skills earned him a scholarship to Mars Hill College in North Carolina, and he was excited about his prospects. The future looked bright, but he felt something was wrong with his health. “Just real tired. Just drained,” he said.
In early summer after graduation, he went to a doctor for the first time in his life. He and his mother learned something was terribly wrong. The young man who had spent the previous fall smashing through high school defensive lines was in desperate shape. He was on the verge of dying from kidney failure brought on by severely high blood pressure. Quick action was needed to save his life. “We just went to praying,” his mother, Linda Cheeks said.
From that point, Cheeks’ life changed radically, but he didn’t stop living. He became a father to sons Drequan Cheeks, 12, and Daquis Cheeks, 13. Drequan lives with his dad. Daquis stays with his mother. In addition to three-times weekly dialysis, he kept a daily regimen of eight prescription medications. He worked part time as a carpet cleaner. Holden Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Spartanburg has been a lifeline for the family.
Two months ago, Cheeks thought he had a shot at getting a new kidney, but his spleen became inflamed, which nixed the surgery.
Previously, he turned down a “high-risk kidney.” Cheeks will remain in the hospital for at least the next few days while doctors monitor his condition. He will take drugs for the rest of his life to stop his body from rejecting the donated kidney.
South Carolina has 750 people waiting for a kidney transplant. Living donors provide about half of transplanted kidneys except in the Southeast, where most transplant kidneys come from cadavers. Living donors provide the best-quality kidneys, Baliga said. “The fears surrounding it are a significant barrier. If you’re a healthy person and have normal kidney function donating one kidney is safe. Getting somebody to donate is the challenge,” he said.
MUSC performed its first living donor kidney transplant in 1968. It’s been shown that people can live well with only one kidney. Veterans who lost a kidney because of battle wounds have lived full lives with no health problems. The same is true of children born with only one kidney, Baliga said.

Editor’s note: The article ran Dec. 18, 2008 in The Post and Courier and is reprinted with permission.

Friday, Jan. 9, 2009

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