Whether it’s skiing, swimming or zip-lining, Chris and Amanda Gilbreath enjoy the outdoors and physical activities year-round with their sons 7-year-old John and 16-year-old Codie. But this kind of family fun wasn’t always easy or even possible for John.
Born with failing kidneys that had to be removed, John required nightly 10-hour sessions of peritoneal dialysis. Other than that, and a number of medications to keep him going, he developed into a healthy energetic boy. While the dialysis and the drugs were keeping him alive, his parents knew he would need a kidney transplant to live a truly independent life.
Chris, a Sherman, Texas, firefighter, decided to donate a kidney to save his son’s life
“You hope that everything is good and well, and that you’ll never have to rescue someone in your own family,” Chris said. “But it meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to help John.”
And everything did go well. Very well.
In May 2009, the UT Southwestern transplant team removed Chris’ kidney and Dr. Dev Desai, surgical director of visceral transplant at Children’s Medical Center, and his team implanted the kidney into John shortly thereafter.
Today, both father and son are in excellent health
“I am still a firefighter in Sherman, and my duties remain the same at the fire department,” says Chris.
John must take immunosuppressants to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted kidney, but he’s on fewer medications now than before the transplant. Many other things have changed, too. He’s no longer dependent on dialysis. And since his parents didn’t have to worry anymore about him getting an infection at his peritoneal dialysis port site from getting it wet, he was finally able to learn to swim…like a fish.
“John had been swimming around with a lifejacket for the first few weeks, and he asked me if he could take it off,” Chris says. “I said, ‘Yeah, we can practice swimming here in the shallow end.’ Ten minutes later, he was getting the dive rings from the deep end.”
Last summer, the family traveled to Colorado and Chris and John tried zip-lining for the first time and in January, the family went skiing.
“Our lives have been amazingly blessed, and we will be forever grateful to Children’s for the wonderful care that was and continues to be provided to John,” says Chris.
Take a look back at the father-son journey Chris and John took in 2009 when a life-saving kidney transplant surgery was performed at UT Southwestern and Children’s, and then Tweeted live from the Operating Rooms of each hospital.