A Mother Gives Life in More Ways Than One

By Jessica Melore

As a 14-year-old high school sophomore, Damien Castro was a talented basketball and football player with dreams of joining the NFL — until the day he got a fever he couldn’t shake. Days soon turned into weeks. Scared and uncertain about what was happening, he spent a month in hospitals before he was diagnosed with end stage renal disease (ESRD) and FSGS due to an autoimmune blood disorder. He was in acute kidney failure.

“I just wanted to get better,” Damien says. “I couldn’t play sports anymore. I was on heavy medication and looked completely different. It was horrible at first.”

Damien went on dialysis for two months until his creatinine stabilized, but within two years, his kidney function was rapidly declining and it became clear that a transplant was his best option. His family went for an evaluation at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center when they heard about the success rates of the living donor kidney transplant program. His parents were tested and his mother, Susan, turned out to be a match.

“When I found out I was a match for Damien, I was scared and relieved,” says his mom, Susan. “I knew my life would change and I’d have to start taking better care of myself. He’s my son, and I knew it was what I needed to do. My fear of losing Damien outweighed everything else. Dr. Sandip Kapur, Dr. Joseph Del Pizzo, Dr. Valerie Johnson, and the team at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell made me feel like we were in the best hands, which made it easier. They made us feel comfortable and were so protective of my son, which makes such a difference.”

Damien was homeschooled for a few months after the transplant, but was able to walk on time at high school graduation with his classmates.

“It meant a lot to me. When I stood up to get my diploma, I didn’t expect to hear all the cheers and the clapping. It made me realize how much my friends missed me. It felt really good,” Damien says.

Susan’s kidney donation to her son has made their relationship even stronger.

“It felt good to get the kidney from my mom and we’re both incredibly happy. We talk all the time. We were always close, but this made us even closer,” says Damien.

“I told Damien he didn’t have to bow down to me because I gave him a kidney. It was necessary. Our bond is very special. At the end of the day, we love each other and that’s all that matters,” Susan says.

Now 17 years old, Damien is looking forward to starting college this fall and hopes to become a police officer one day.

“I can do a lot more now. I used to have to be so cautious. Now I can work out, see my friends, not worry as much about what I eat. I always have to take my transplant medication on time, but I feel like my old self again.

“Damien has more stamina than I do!” Susan says, laughing. “He goes to the gym, rides his bike and plays basketball. I see the change – it looks like nothing ever happened. To see him living a normal life – it helps you realize what a gift you gave your child. It’s worth everything.”

Visit the National Kidney Foundation’s website for more information about living donation and becoming a living kidney donor.

Jessica Melore is a member of the transAction Council Executive Committee.