SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) — There are all kinds of stories about a life being saved with an organ transplant. This story is about a father doing just that for his son.
But, it wasn’t the kind of miracle some of these stories tend to be. In fact, this is about how saving a life through a transplant could easily be a lot more common, particularly a kidney transplant.
And, this story will finish at the top of a volcano.
Shane Quail of Sioux Falls will climb three of them in Guatemala next month to inspire others like him to be a kidney donor. He gave one of his to his son, Ezra, in 2019.
“Many of us in the world could donate a kidney,” Shane told Dakota News Now on Monday. “We just don’t know, or we’re afraid, or there’s more to it, or ‘my life would be different afterwards.’”
According to the National Kidney Foundation, at any given time, over 92,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list. There are still an estimated twelve people dying each day without the opportunity to receive a life-saving transplant.
Shane’s 21-year-old son Ezra could have been one of them. He was born with a rare, cystic kidney disease. While Ezra was able to live a mostly normal childhood, the disease sapped his appetite, leaving him abnormally thin and looking “almost unhealthy,” Shane said.
“It affects their diet, their energy levels,” Shane said. “It was a challenge his whole life. He fought this his whole life.”
Four years ago, at age 17, Ezra’s kidneys were functioning at about only 20 percent.
”Within the next year or two years, I would have needed to be on dialysis, just, because they were beginning to drop off pretty quickly,” Ezra said.
To continue living a normal life, Ezra would need a transplant. This news didn’t startle or faze the teenager. He had known his whole life the day would come.
“He was born with it, so it was a part of everyday life,” Shane said. “If you make it a big part of your life, it can become a big part of your life, and for us, it was like, ‘this is what you can do, let’s not focus on what you can’t do.’”
Fortunately, Ezra didn’t have to look far for a match. His blood type is AB, which can receive a transplant from almost any other blood type. Both his parents ran blood tests, and Shane qualified.
The father had zero apprehension or trepidation about going under the knife and giving one of his two kidneys to his son.
“It’s not something that I never want to think of as a gift or anything like that,” Shane said. “He’s my son. That’s what you do. You take care of your kids.”
The surgery was not as scary or painful as most might think, and neither was the recovery.
“I was out of the hospital the next day,” Shane said. “Within nine days, I was back on the road running. Running is one of my passions.”
Shane ran a half-marathon within four months of the transplant, and three ultramarathons since. Along the way, Shane and his wife Denelle discovered Kidney Donor Athletes, or KDA, a national organization working to educate and change the perception around live organ donation, which does so through their “one kidney climb.” Last year, on March 10 — World Kidney Day — a group of 22 kidney donors climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Denelle nominated Shane to join the 2023 climb. He had to meet certain fitness criteria to be selected.
And, so, next month, Shane will climb three volcanoes — measuring 8,000 to 12,000 feet — in Guatemala with 18 other kidney donors for KDA.
“I’m so excited,” Shane said. “It’s going to be great to connect with another group of kidney donors. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of us out there. I wish there was more kidney donors around. It will be neat to meet with a group that went through the same experience and prove what we can do post-donation.”
The goal of the trip is to show others that being a donor does not slow down your life.
“Don’t be scared. There’s nothing to worry about,” Shane said. “It’s a surgery. Of course, there are things you have to plan for, and things you have to think about but really the recovery is very short. Within two to four weeks, you’re back to doing almost everything you were before. There’s a little energy loss for the first six months or so but after that, it’s life as usual. You just don’t have to worry about it.”
It should be noted — Shane’s medical team told him his recovery from the transplant was the best they’d ever seen. The Sioux Falls franchise owner of salad restaurant Crisp and Green credits his healthy lifestyle and says this story can double as a reminder that if you take care of yourself, you can take care of others.
“Think about that. There’s not many ways that we can affect somebody’s life in such a dramatic way,” Shane said. “Saving a life, literally, and almost all of us have the power to do that because we have an extra kidney. You don’t need both of them.”
Shane needed to go through extensive tests before being cleared to donate. Had he been a heavy smoker or drinker or had diabetes, he would not be able to give up one of his kidneys.
He has passed his love of the outdoors to both Ezra and his other son, 13-year-old Eben. The family of four spends a lot of time together hiking.
And, yes, Ezra said his dad’s commitment to clean eating and fitness has inspired him.
“Yes, definitely,” said Ezra, who his father describes as laid back. “I don’t think I’d be insane enough to run marathons or anything. I don’t have the stamina for that, but I definitely do want to live healthier and choose a lot of my actions better because of how he lives.”
Shane has taken notice of how Ezra’s health and energy have dramatically improved over the last four years.
“After the transplant, he immediately looked better, had better energy, ate better,” Shane said, adding Ezra’s skin quickly started showing more color.
“It’s great. It’s amazing. You know, there was always of a concern, having been born with this, that could it take a turn for the worse.”
Ezra is taking classes at Southeast Tech, with a goal of becoming a cardiac sonographer.
“He’s almost done with college, he’s got friends, he drives, he’s got a job, he does everything like you’d expect anything to do,” Shane said. “It’s fantastic.”
The bond between the two, they say, was plenty strong before the transplant.
”But, this definitely added a whole new level of respect for him and everything because he gave me a kidney,” Ezra said. “It definitely will keep us close forever. Like, I’ll never forget that.”
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