Sharing life: BIMC staffer donates kidney to family member

Thu, 12/24/2020 - 6:00pm
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Tom Hobin, the physical therapist at the Block Island Medical Center, had been considering donating a kidney for quite some time to an individual in need, but had no idea that his kidney would be a match with a close family relative.

“I learned from my step-daughter Alexia Pettit that her father-in-law needed a transplant. The father-in-law [Doug Courtemanche] was on the list to get one. We found out over a year ago, when I started the process of looking into it,” said Hobin.

Hobin had married Alexia’s mother Monique, and when Courtemanche met Hobin and his family, a conversation was struck on Courtemanche’s need for a kidney.

“[Tom] said he would love to be tested to be a match,” said Courtemanche, the recipient to Hobin’s kidney donation.

“I decided if it was a match, I would go forward with the process. It’s a very long process of screening and making sure it’s the right match,” said Hobin, noting he had to undergo such tests as blood work, physical and psychological exams, CT scans and genetic testing to make sure he was suitable as a donor.

Courtemanche had a kidney that failed two years ago, and had been waiting for a match for about two years when Hobin decided to donate one of his.

“I needed the donation for the kidney because this time, two years ago, I had a kidney that failed. I was on dialysis for about two years, and had been waiting for a match,” said Courtemanche. He added that “a lot of times, the donor doesn’t get to meet the recipient. But Tom and I knew each other prior, which made it a nice process to go through.”

From start to finish, the transplant process took 13 months starting in October 2019, with a few bumps and stops in the process due to Covid-19. The surgery date was finally scheduled for Monday, Nov. 2.

“We started the process with the Rhode Island Hospital with [Clinical Transplant Coordinator] Sarah Gibb. The program finds matches all over,” said Hobin.

The Rhode Island Transplant Center at Rhode Island Hospital established its living donor transplant program in 1997, and “quickly became one of the largest in New England,” as stated on the organization’s website. The program has performed more than 1,000 kidney transplants to date. The following information from the program provides a background synopsis on the transplant program and the need for kidney donors:

“Presently kidney transplantation is a treatment option for those suffering from end-stage renal diseases who wish to be relieved from the constraints of dialysis. This treatment choice improves quality of life by correcting complications of kidney failure that are not fully reversed by dialysis. It also offers the best chance of rehabilitation, particularly for those with kidney failure caused by diabetes.

“The live donor program was initiated due to the growing demand for kidneys. The transplant waiting list has grown significantly, whereas the number of cadaver donations has increased only slightly. The quality of cadaver kidneys has also diminished due to the expansion of the donor pool in an effort to accommodate the growing demand. Since outcomes are better for those who receive their kidney from a live donor, RIH has a sincere interest in increasing the number of live donors.”

On their surgery day, Hobin and Courtemanche were placed next to each other in the surgery room, with the procedure lasting three hours.

“[On surgery day], we got there at 6 a.m. We chatted a little while before we were called in, and then I was called in. They take you into a prep area, your own room before they take you into the surgical room. We had two different surgeons – one that puts the kidney in, and one that takes the kidney out,” said Courtemanche.

Hobin added “things were challenging post-operation. It took a lot longer to bounce back with being older. It took a while longer, but what is my complaint really?”

Courtemanche, on the other hand, was feeling alive and healthy after receiving the kidney.

“After the surgery, the recipient feels like a million bucks. Once the kidney kicks in, it’s like night and day. You felt bad for so long, and now everything changes. I’m feeling fantastic. You don’t realize how much the dialysis takes a toll on the body,” said Courtemanche.

Because of the donation, Hobin and Courtemanche can now enjoy their families, as well as a grandson named Cody, who was born four days after the surgery.

“Our mutual bonus daughter gave birth to a son named Cody – we share a grandson together,” said Hobin.

Hobin expressed his appreciation to the Block Island community for its warmth and support when he returned from surgery. He was especially grateful for the support he received from members of the Block Island Health Services staff, the faith communities and from many friends including Barbara MacDougall and Ed and Wendy Northup.

“I’ve been here for five years, but I felt a sense of coming home to Block Island. Being able to see everyone, there’s a sense of seeing and being seen. A sense of loving and being loved. It was good to be back,” said Hobin.

Speed forward to the present day, and Hobin and Courtemanche are enjoying life post-surgery. Hobin even stated he was looking forward to “walking with [Courtemanche] six feet apart” as a follow up.

“It’s nice to be on the other side of it. Life and love, and letting go and trusting that it works out. It’s been good with Doug. My heart goes out to those [dealing with disability and loss]. We all deal with death, disease and disability, and it’s an awareness that I didn’t know, an awareness that we can give a language to,” said Hobin.

Hobin and Courtemanche also expressed mutual gratefulness to the nurses and doctors who were by their sides all the way through the donor process.

“The care of the nurses — they treated me like I was their uncle or dad. They gave me the dignity and care that we all want and deserve. They’re the heroes in many ways,” said Hobin.

“They are phenomenal, all the work that they do,” added Courtemanche.

While Hobin and Courtemanche’s story is a miracle story because of the perfect match, there are many patients in the world who are waiting for an organ donation.

Director of the Transplant Program at Rhode Island Hospital, Dr. Paul Morrissey, spoke with The Times, and said that kidney donations were usually exclusively made by family members, but that they were now expanding to outside the family.

“Family members were the exclusive donors for people in need, and now it’s more common for a friend or associate, or even a stranger to donate to somebody — all are considered acceptable. Most donors originate in knowing someone who is in need. There is a smaller group of donors that are generally interested [in donating to] not a specific individual,” said Morrissey.

Hobin addressed the benefits of helping out an individual who may need an organ donation.

“The real heroes are the people that need the kidneys. A lot of people need them. Doug is the courageous one to have to wait for the kidney… I was surprised at how many stories I had heard. Everybody knows somebody that has been affected,” said Hobin.

“When I went in, I was asked why I wanted to do this. I didn’t feel any fear – I felt it was the right thing to do if I was a match. I just knew a relative, a person I know, but not a blood relative, needed a kidney. That seemed like the right thing to do to help both of us enhance our lives,” said Hobin.

To learn more about the living donor transplant program at Rhode Island Hospital:

Transplant center page: https://www. lifespan.org/centers-services/transplant-center

Donor guide: https://www.lifespan.org/ centers-services/transplant-center/donorguide

Anyone interested in becoming a donor or have any questions regarding the transplant program, please call (401) 444-8562 or 1-888-444-0102, or fill out the donor evaluation questionnaire at www.lifespan. org/donor-evaluation-questionnaire