In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

October 29, 2015

Lifelong Friends Team Up For Kidney Transplant

By In the Loop

Doug Smith and Kelly Higgins have been friends since college, so Higgins didn’t hesitate to help save his friend's life by giving him a kidney. Doug Smith and Kelly Higgins have been teammates — in sports and in life — since college. So when doctors told Kelly he had a chance to help save his friend's life by giving him a kidney, he didn't hesitate to answer the call. “How can you look a friend in the face and you know you’re a match and you can help?" he tells Sioux City Journal columnist Terry Hersom. “And, you’re going to be inconvenienced for a few weeks, maybe?’’

For Doug, on the other hand, medical inconveniences are nothing new, Hersom writes. After being diagnosed with diabetes at 16, he's been faced with "a complex medical regimen" necessary to live the life he's wanted to — on the field and off. "Standard insulin treatments" helped keep Doug on baseball and football fields as a player and as a coach for many years after his playing days came to an end. But in January 2013, his kidneys began to fail, and he needed dialysis. "For 30 months, give or take, he was locked into at least a five-hour commitment three days a week, relying on machines to perform the vital role his kidneys no longer could," Hersom writes.

Six months later, life threw Doug another curveball, and he developed severe infections in both feet that ultimately led doctors to amputate both of his legs "five inches below the knees." Prosthetics helped "restore some of his mobility." His kidneys, meanwhile, continued to worsen. “Every time I start progressing a little bit, I have another surgery or something,'" he tells the columnist. "I thought, ‘Gosh, now they’re never going to do my kidney.'"

Doctors would eventually get to Doug's failing kidneys. After "transplant centers in Sioux Falls, Omaha and Iowa City all rejected Smith," he "finally got a thumbs-up from the Mayo Clinic," Hersom writes. And when he did, Kelly Higgins was ready. “I told him years ago, ‘If you need help, just let me know. I’ll put my name on the list,'" Kelly tells the columnist. Doug says this came as no surprise. “Kelly’s pretty strong-willed," he tells Hersom. “I don’t think he hesitated at all."

After the kidney transplant on Oct. 2. at the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center in Rochester, Minnesota, Doug is on his way to resuming the active, athletic lifestyle he's enjoyed thanks to his lifelong friend. “Kelly’s the real hero,’’ Doug says.

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Tags: Kidney transplant, Patient Stories

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