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