PIQUA — Courtney Downs, a former teacher at Piqua High School and now Covington Elementary School principal, chose to donate her kidney to a complete stranger in June 2022 in a kidney exchange at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
The process all started in February when Downs was scrolling through Facebook and came across a post her friend shared of a woman looking for someone willing to donate a kidney to her husband, Jason Roberts, of Piqua.
Upon seeing the first post Downs thought, “Oh, this is something I could definitely do.” She did not think much of it until she kept seeing more and more of her friends share the post and decided to reach out.
Roberts’ wife originally posted to Facebook in search of potential donors due to Roberts’ renal failure caused by diabetes. In December 2021, two months before the post circulated Facebook, Roberts was diagnosed with COVID-19 which only exacerbated his kidney failure. In January 2022, he started dialysis to help his kidneys function while he waited for a new kidney.
After reaching out to Roberts and his family, Downs began the process to find out if she was a match for Roberts. The matching process started with a questionnaire about standard health questions to determine if Downs was healthy and a glucose test to ensure she is not at risk for future kidney issues. After determining if she was a good donor candidate, she had to do a cheek swab as a preliminary match test followed by a blood test that determined she was not a match for Roberts.
Though she was not a match to donate to Roberts, the two were contacted by OSU Wexner Medical Center to ask if they would like to participate in the medical center’s cross match program. The program pairs up two sets of donors and recipients in which the donors were not matches for the recipients but happen to be matches for the recipient of the other pair. According to Downs, she immediately agreed.
“I was already willing to give my kidney to Jason, why not basically give it on his behalf,” said Downs.
Roberts and the second donor/recipient pair also agreed to the exchange and on June 17, 2022, the four were in the hospital preparing for the transplants.
“This was a very new experience for me. Being under anesthesia and staying overnight in the hospital… I honestly just felt like this is what I was supposed to do and that gave me peace of mind through the process,” said Downs.
Following the surgeries, Roberts and Downs had two very different recovery processes. The transplant surgeries took place on Friday, June 17, 2022, and Downs was released from the hospital with only lifting limitations on Sunday, June 19, 2022. According to Downs, her recovery went quickly due to the great staff at OSU Wexner Medical Center. She also attributed her ability to donate and recover quickly to her husband’s support.
“He’s always been very supportive of me. He helped get me to appointments and to OSU. He also took care of our daughter (1-year-old) while I couldn’t even lift her after surgery,” said Downs.
Roberts’ recovery process has been quite different. While there were no complications, it has taken months for Roberts to get his life back on track. He was in a lot of pain and it took him multiple months to regain his energy and he is still fighting that battle. He still has not returned to work, as he is an underground maintenance worker for the city of Piqua, which requires a lot of heavy lifting. The city wants to ensure his safety on the job by requiring him to take a physical fitness test and receive clearance from his doctors.
So far, Roberts has been cleared to work by his local doctor and has an appointment set for later this month in December to get cleared by his team at OSU. He is hoping to return to work in January 2023, but is also preparing for the possibility of finding a new, less strenuous job.
Thankfully, Roberts had a strong support system in his wife and kids. His wife has been taking care of the house and helping him keep his paperwork and medications in order. Not bouncing back to normal has made Roberts feel slightly guilty; he’s seen his children scared for their father when he was sick, and during recovery, he had to miss the majority of his son’s basketball season.
Slowly but surely Roberts’ life is returning to normal, as he started coaching basketball last month for Covington Exempted Village Schools, where Downs is now a principal.
Months later, in September, the four participants of the kidney exchange decided to meet for the first time with their families. The families all met for lunch which is when Downs and Roberts realized that Roberts’ son was a student at Piqua High School, where Downs taught, and that the two, Roberts and Downs, had previously met before the transplant. Their first meeting was the day of the transplant while waiting outside for OSU Wexner Medical Center to open since they were part of the first two surgeries of the day. Even though Downs and Roberts did not officially meet until September, Roberts’ family was sure to check up on Downs in the hospital and visit with her during her stay.
The two have recovered well; Downs has returned to life as normal and Roberts is in the process of preparing to return to work for the city of Piqua.