Family ties result in kidney transplant

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Kristen Bridges, seated, donated a kidney to her cousin Rebekah Nicarry. They now have similar tastes in foods.

Cousins Kristen Bridges and Rebekah Nicarry are closer now then they were as children. Then they were separated by distance. Now they are joined by a kidney.

Bridges, a 1990 graduate of Greencastle-Antrim High School, gave a kidney to Nicarry, West Grove, after much prodding. The surgery took place March 14 at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia. Both were discharged five days later, and are healthy today.

The prodding was not on Bridges to share an organ, but on Nicarry to accept it.

"Kristen had offered it to me three or four times, but it bothered me," said Nicarry, 34. "She was taking a risk. She had two kids. There were so many what-if's? I was terrified they would lose their mother."

Bridges, 40, had seen her cousin struggle with diabetes since a diagnosis at age 10. The little girl brought needles and insulin on visits to their grandmother.

Nicarry admits she neglected her health, feeling invincible as a teenager. She was on several medications, including for high blood pressure. She had a heart attack. In 2009 she was admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure.

"The ER told me my kidneys were no longer functioning."

She started dialysis three times a week, but was able to continue her job in Human Resources. In 2010 her name went on the kidney transplant waiting list. Bridges continued to nag her and said, "When you get sick of this, tell me.  I'm ready to go."

That day came in the summer of 2010. Nicarry told Bridges' son, Cameron Grosh, now 17, "Tell your mom I said 'uncle'. I can't take this any more."

Bridges went through testing, both physical and mental. She made seven trips to Philadelphia and gave up 62 vials of blood. She was named a match on Oct. 31. She took that as a sign from God that the procedure was going to work. She also knew that was why she had successfully lost some weight, and took off more as required by the doctors. She forged ahead with confidence.

"I never second-guessed. I was frustrated she wouldn't let me do it."

Bridge's mother, Sharon Nicarry, and Cameron were at the hospital with the two for their entire stint, while Caeleb Bridges, 11, remained behind. The transplant was not quite typical. Because of Nicarry's religious faith, it had to be bloodless. The medical team drained Bridges' kidney before connecting it, and Nicarry did not get a transfusion like most patients.

"My recovery was speedy," Nicarry said. "I was feeling great and she was feeling lousy."

Bridges was fine once the pain was under control. She took off eight weeks from her job as a registered nurse in the Baltimore area. The state of Maryland, under an employee living donor program, paid her salary for six weeks, and she used vacation time for the rest. The compensation was a nice surprise.

Nicarry's experience led her to change her career path. She intends to become an RN. She also plans a cross country road trip with her father. Life has taken on new meaning.

"I have a lot more freedom now. I had a do-over and I'm not wasting it."

She is especially happy she can now taste food and drink water. Tomato soup is a favorite, and her fluid restrictions are over.

Nicarry is only prevented from taking ibuprofen, but is back to her regular life. She met many "amazing" people online, both donors and recipients, and will join them at a Show Your Scars Tour in Las Vegas.

Both are amused by one side-effect from the transplant. Nicarry has absorbed some of Bridges' eating habits.

"Since she got my kidney, she cannot stand the taste of beer, and she loves green olives."