“It felt unbelievable to know that someone who didn’t know me would give me such a gift.”
For Darrell Neal, kidney disease has been a lifelong battle that began when he was just a child. Decades and many, many hospital visits and treatments later, he never imagined a perfect stranger would save his life.
Darrell realized he was really in trouble in 2005 when he was diagnosed with end stage renal disease (ESRD), which meant his kidneys could no longer do their most critical job, filter toxins and excess fluids from the blood. He was told without a transplant he would die or be on dialysis as long as it would sustain him.
He started with dialysis. Three days a week he went to a clinic where he was hooked up to a machine for several hours as his blood was cleaned. Dialysis left Darrell so tired, he could barely drive home, he couldn’t work and his overall quality of life “was really bad.” Eventually, he and his wife, Barbara, learned how to do hemodialysis at home, which was more convenient, but it had to be done six days a week instead of three.
In 2009, Darrell’s kidney function continued to deteriorate and he was put on the transplant waiting list. It gave him a little hope, but not much. Patients waiting for kidney transplants from a deceased donor can wait up to seven years or longer in California. The Neals thought maybe a family member or friend would step up to donate. But no one did.
Barbara began to feel desperate. In 2010, she called Dr. Phil, hoping he could get the word out that Darrell, and thousands others like him, could have a second chance at life if more people would become living kidney donors. Dr. Phil answered her plea and invited Darrell to come on the show and share his story. As he described life on dialysis as being no life at all, a woman in Idaho was watching and couldn’t believe no one had helped Darrell. Despite not knowing him, Shannon Martin offered to donate her kidney to give him his life back. And she was a match.
“It felt unbelievable to know that someone who didn’t know me would give me such a gift,” says Darrell. “It was like I hit the lottery.”
But it would be a little while before the Neals could celebrate. As Shannon began the thorough, and sometimes lengthy, process of becoming a living donor, Barbara lost her job as a legal secretary, forcing her and Darrell to move from their home in San Diego to Stockton, Darrell’s hometown, to live with his mother. Dialysis had not only drained Darrell physically and emotionally, it had drained him and Barbara financially as well.
But, the future looked bright. Shannon had come to the rescue. It took some time and a lot of medical, physical and psychological tests and evaluations, but eventually she was cleared to donate one of her kidneys to Darrell.
Seven years after starting dialysis, Darrell got his transplant. He and Shannon underwent surgery on August 21, 2012 at Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego and both are healthy and well.
Thanks to Shannon’s gift, Darrell and Barbara now live more “normal lives” and work to educate people about kidney disease and living kidney donation.
“I’ll never be able to completely thank her,” says Darrell. “…from time to time I will call her and see how she is doing and tell her I love her.”