| Dialysis | Kidney disease | Patient stories | Transplant

A Tale of Two Transplants: Family Saves the Day Part 2

June 06, 2024, 8:27am EDT

Nichole, her daughter, and mother in an NKF photo shoot

This is the second part of Nichole Baker’s kidney donation story. Read Part 1 before continuing

Many high school graduates are thinking about work, continuing education, and what’s next. As Nichole finished high school in 2007, her kidneys were failing in the background. It wasn’t until the routine physical Nicole needed to live in the college dorms that she learned the truth–she had focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a type of kidney disease. Nichole fought to maintain her kidney function while attending college. After four years it became clear that her kidneys couldn't be saved. 

That’s when her family stepped in to save the day. 

Learning Nichole’s Kidneys Failed

Nichole Baker masked in hospital with dialysis port

When Judith, Nichole’s mom, and Brandon, her brother, learned she needed a kidney transplant, they sprang into action. Both began the living kidney donor evaluation process.

"The evaluation is really thorough. They make sure you're physically and mentally okay to donate," Judith explained. "We were both a match, but Brandon was slightly better. As their mom, I wanted to be the one to donate. I thought Brandon could donate later if she needed another transplant."

Despite Judith's uncertainty, Brandon was the best candidate. He was determined to save his sister from dialysis.

"Nichole is my best friend. I'll do anything for her. When I found out I was a match, I was thrilled," Brandon shared. "Since FSGS doesn't disappear with a transplant, I knew it might only work for about ten years. Although I hoped it would last longer, that didn’t stop me."

With Brandon on board, the transplant was scheduled.

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Brandon’s Kidney Donation

Nichole (L) and Brandon (R) smiling in the hospital together

While Brandon was nervous on surgery day, he stayed focused on his goal–giving Nichole a second chance at life. 

"Before I went in for surgery, Nichole and I embraced in a dramatic moment you see in movies. We held onto each other tightly and stretched our arms towards each other until I was wheeled away," Brandon said. "Seeing Nichole for the first time after the surgery was incredible. Knowing she was okay relieved a great amount of stress."

For Judith, the day was a rollercoaster of emotions.

"My children mean everything to me. Having two of them in surgery on the same day was tough. Waiting for it to be over was agonizing," Judith shared. "But everything turned out okay. We even managed to find humor in it. Nichole and Brandon named their kidneys. He has Harrison and she has Tallulah."

The first week of Brandon's recovery was challenging, but he found a bright side.

"I was sore but having some time off to rest in bed from my demanding job was a welcome change," Brandon said. "The support from the transplant team and my family made the whole process much smoother."

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Judith’s Kidney Donation

Judith in protective gear at hospital smiling

Nichole's donated kidney lasted for ten years before starting to fail. It gave her the chance to advance her career, enjoy her hobbies, and even become a mother. 

"We've always been vigilant about Nichole's health," Judith said. "Especially during the COVID pandemic. We avoided the virus for two years."

Then in December 2021, COVID-19 found its way into their lives. Nichole caught it and her transplant never worked the same. For a year and a half, Nichole and her healthcare team worked tirelessly to try and save the kidney.

“She went through so much. She was so sick but you wouldn’t know it,” said Judith. “She was a present mom who was always there for her daughter. Nichole could have spent the morning in the ER but would be playing with her daughter in the park later that day.”

When it was clear Nichole’s kidney couldn’t be saved, Judith started the living kidney donation process for a second time. 

“My husband and youngest son were worried about me but wanted what was best for Nicole,” Judith said. “They also knew that the transplant team wouldn’t allow me to donate a kidney if they thought it would hurt me.”

While they waited to hear if Judith was a good fit for kidney donation, Brandon dealt with feelings of guilt.

“She was relying on my kidney. It wasn’t doing the job it was supposed to. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t mine or anyone else’s fault,” said Brandon. “Luckily, my mom was a match and the surgery took place in June 2022.”

Brandon focused his energy on supporting Judith the way she supported him during his donation.

“The kidney started working right away. I enjoyed my recovery period surrounded by my family, and seeing Nichole get better by the day. While there have been some bumps in the road, Nichole and I are doing great,” Judith said. “The future is bright.”

While Nichole received life-saving kidney transplants, not everyone is so lucky. Every day, multiple people die on the kidney transplant wait list before getting a second chance at life.

The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to building a future where everyone who needs a kidney gets one–a future where there are Transplants for All. Sign NKF's Equity Spotlight Petition to join our mission. Together, we can create a more equitable future in kidney healthcare.

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