19 Years Ago, My Mom Saved My Dad's Life With a Kidney Transplant—And Forever Changed Mine, Too

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alyssa and family
Photo credit: Courtesy of Alyssa Kent

Inspired by Robin Roberts opening up about her transplant experience and her new documentary television series, "Last Chance Transplant," our Director of Publicity, Alyssa Kent, is sharing her own family's life-saving transplant experience.

In my family, a lot of major milestones have happened over the past 19 years, including: graduations, new jobs, engagements, marriages and births. However, it is not lost on me that the last two decades could have taken a completely different turn, had it not been for my dad's successful, life-saving kidney transplant.

November 2021 will mark 19 years since my mom miraculously donated one of her kidneys to my dad. I remember it like it was yesterday—My parents sat down my brother (a then 14-year-old, 9th grader) and me (a then 13-year-old, 7th grader), explaining that both of my dad's kidneys were failing. My dad explained that he had been living with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD),which causes fluid-filled cysts to grow on the kidneys. He explained that his kidneys were losing their function and were ultimately failing. As he was talking us through the facts, one image I will never forget is when my dad held up a clenched fist and said that was the size of a normal kidney … but his were the size of footballs.

He then discussed his two major options. First, there was dialysis—which would become his life—spending numerous hours a day in the hospital receiving treatment. Or, there was a transplant. He explained how hard it was to find a donor. He said that some of my relatives who had stepped forward were too old, and he informed us of how hard it was to find a perfect match. However, unbeknownst to me and my brother, we were surprised to learn that my mom had gotten tested and she was thankfully a match! We then learned that in a few short weeks, our parents would go to the hospital for their transplant procedures.

My family is a very close unit. As a young teenager, it was scary thinking about both of my parents going under the knife. Though I knew they were under the care of highly trained professionals, it was very unnerving to say the least. 

alyssa and family
This was a family photo taken in May 2012 during my graduation from Cornell University. (L-R): Mike Kent, Stephanie Kent, Alyssa Kent and Greg Kent
Courtesy of Alyssa Kent

A short while before the transplant, my grandparents flew out from Rhode Island to Los Angeles to care for me and my brother. They drove us to school and swim practices, prepared meals for us, helped us with our homework, and were there when I was too anxious to fall asleep. Though my brother and I were always there for one another, we had just started a new school year and he had just entered high school—so throughout the weekdays, we were (relatively) far apart. I tried my best to keep my composure during school, because my brother wasn't right down the hall if I needed him. 

All the while, my dad was admitted to the hospital for his kidney removal. (Though both of his kidneys were failing, they could usually insert the new, functioning kidney in without removing the others. However, because of the massive size of his kidneys due to the cysts, there physically wasn't enough room to insert a new kidney.) Then, it was my mom's turn. She was admitted for her kidney removal surgery and then the transplant took place. 

Day by day, my brother and I could only imagine what was happening. Our relatives and family friends were trying to keep our lives as normal as possible—which was a needed distraction— but my imagination ran wild. 

I was thankful to learn that, in the end, the transplant was successful. However, the images of that hospital and the demeanor of my parents when we were allowed to visit for the first time, post-surgery, will stay with me forever. I remember seeing my mom in pain (putting on a smile for us), but wanting to be alone with my grandparents (her parents). My brother and I then went to visit our dad. Though he was exhausted, you could see how grateful he was that the transplant was successful. 

My dad continues to thrive year after year, thanks to my mom's selflessness, love and devotion to our family. Her bravery and altruistic nature has helped to shape who I am today. I am a true believer in the miracle of organ donation, as I have experienced how it not only changes the lives of the organ recipient and donor, but it also has a ripple effect—impacting those who love them.

Fast forward to 2018—I was going through some deep, personal turmoil and I didn't know what to do or where to turn. Thankfully, my family was there for me like always. One night, my dad sat me down and he spoke of resilience. He said that life would have its challenges, but like his PKD, all you can do is move forward and overcome the obstacles in front of you. He said, "I have PKD, but it is not my life sentence." 

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