By Denise Dick
Sharon Nicastro donated one of her kidneys to a stranger in San Diego. In exchange, John, her husband of 48 years, received a kidney from a Columbus woman he’s never met.
“If you feel you can do it, and can live without one kidney, you should do it,” Sharon said. “You can bless two people with your gift.”
It’s called living donation, and the couple learned about it from their daughter, Elyce Nicastro Ervin, a University of Toledo professor.
Last month marked one year since John got his new kidney and Sharon donated one of hers.
“I really feel blessed,” John said. “It’s like I got a new battery put in.”
He was diagnosed in 2006 with chronic kidney disease.
“In 2009, his doctor told us, ‘It’s not a question of if he’ll need dialysis, but when,’” Sharon said.
For years, John suffered from fatigue and chest and shoulder pain, but stress tests never indicated he had a problem. In 2014, Sharon persuaded her husband to undergo a colonoscopy. During that procedure, John’s colon was nicked.
That’s when doctors discovered blockages to his heart. Some of them were 100 percent blocked.
He underwent open-heart surgery and that led to his kidneys shutting down.
He began dialysis.
“It was three times a week for four hours.” John said.
He hated it.
“I told [Sharon,] ‘I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to do this,’” John said.
Dialysis hampered his ability to enjoy life. If the couple went away for vacation, they had to find a dialysis clinic where John could get a treatment.
If they wanted to take a weekend trip, they had to be back by Sunday because John had a dialysis session scheduled for Monday.
He decided a year would be as long as he could take it. The couple looked into the living-donor idea.
Sharon wasn’t a match to John, and a transplant coordinator at a Mahoning Valley hospital told them they were too old for the living-donor program. They were directed to register at a few hospitals to try to get a cadaver kidney.
One of those hospitals was the Cleveland Clinic. A transplant coordinator there told them their ages didn’t disqualify them from the living-donor program.
They registered. Sharon endured a series of tests and she was matched to the San Diego recipient. John was then matched to the Columbus donor.
On Aug. 19, 2015, they both went into surgery.
“I just marked my one-year anniversary,” John said. “It’s my new birth.”
Sharon worried at first, but she trusted her doctors. She loves her husband and wanted to help him.
They remained in the hospital a few days and then went to their daughter’s home to recuperate.
“I didn’t realize how bad I felt until after the transplant,” John said.
The couple urges others to research their options if faced with a similar situation and always get a second opinion.
John continues to take 28 pills per day to prevent organ rejection, but it’s preferable to dialysis, he said.
“We can be a lot more spontaneous,” Sharon said, “We don’t have to plan around his dialysis.”
John also has more energy.
“Yesterday we went to the Lily Pond” in Mill Creek Park “and he was able to walk all the way around it,” Sharon said.
He wouldn’t have been able to do that before.
John is grateful to his wife.
“She really saved two lives,” he said.