Close and growing closer, twin donating kidney to brother
Like most brothers and sisters, Caleb and Brittany Hartshorn did their fair share of bickering as they were growing up, but they also forged a bond that remains strong to this day.
“She was our wrestling manager when I was in high school and she went everywhere with us,” said Caleb, a 2009 graduate of LaFayette High School about his younger sister, a 2010 LHS grad. “We even went off to college at West Georgia together at the same time.”
“And when I decided to come home, he came home with me,” Brittany said with a laugh.
In a few more days, that bond will get even stronger as Brittany will give her older brother a gift unlike any other she’s ever given him before – a kidney.
“I’m definitely excited,” Brittany said, “but I’m not really nervous.”
Life was moving right along for the siblings with Caleb working in the public safety department for Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton and Brittany working as a parapro at North LaFayette Elementary.
But that would change on August 25, 2017 as Caleb went to see a doctor after experiencing some foot pain that just would not go away.
“They thought I was dehydrated, so they wanted me to go to the emergency room and get some fluids,” he said. “Then they ran some tests and it turned out I was in stage renal failure.”
Caleb said the main thing on his mind, once he got the news, was whether or not he would still be able to work and help coach wrestling at his alma mater.
“I let the doctor tell everybody else who was at the hospital,” he recalled. “After that, I just felt determined. There wasn’t really anything I could do about it other than fight, so I decided I might as well just fight as hard as I could. I told the doctors that I wanted to start treatment immediately, so they put the permacath in my chest and I started dialysis the next day.”
Brittany, who had arrived at the hospital a few minutes after the rest of the family was told the news, also wasted no time in offering to help. She said it was an instantaneous decision for her to want to become her brother’s living donor.
“When I walked in (the hospital), everybody looked a little upset,” she said. “I asked what was going on and they told me that he was in stage renal failure and he needed a new kidney. I told him right then and there that he could have one of mine and that’s really how I decided.
“There wasn’t really any time to think about it. He was hurting and he needed it.”
Although he appreciated the gesture, Caleb said it still took some convincing for him to buy in.
“At first, I didn’t want her to do it,” he explained. “I said no, I’ll be okay. I go to dialysis three days a week, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I could still go to work and I could still coach wrestling. But she kept on and on about it and everyone told me how special it would be to her to do it.
“The hardest part for me was just not wanting her to be in any danger or having her hurt, but the doctors and surgeons said she would be completely fine. My case manager was talking to me about it and she had donated her father a kidney when she was 19 years old. She’s in her mid-30’s now and has had three kids with absolutely no complications at all, so that made me realize that (Brittany) was going to be okay.”
Of course, there’s more to being a living kidney donor than just offering one up. The two later began the cross-matching tests at Erlanger in Chattanooga and a couple of nervewracking weeks later, they discovered that Brittany was indeed a match for her brother.
However, when they later decided to move the surgeries to Emory in Atlanta, they once again had to go through compatibility testing, just to reconfirm what the initial tests had showed.
They finally got the news they had been waiting for on June 14, 2018 and the surgery was then scheduled for July 13 in Atlanta.
“When I got the call to schedule the surgery, Caleb was walking out of his bedroom, having just gotten home from dialysis,” said Brittany. “I started jumping up and down for joy and waving my arms. We were so excited.”
The siblings have had several visits and consultations at Emory in the past few weeks to get ready. They also said they were informed by the doctors that Emory had over a 98 percent success rate with kidney transplants from a living donor.
“People have asked me, ‘are you really going to give your brother a kidney?’,” Brittany said. “And I’m like, yes. He needs it. Why would I not, especially if it’s going to make him feel better. Plus, I’m going to be fine, so why wouldn’t I do this?
“The doctors had to tell us all the terrible, horrible things that could possibly happen, but there’s never been any hesitation (on my part). It’s always been ‘yes, I’m going to do this and, no, you can’t talk me out of it.”
Brittany also said that her family has been incredibly supportive.
“They’ve never tried to talk me out of it,” she added. “Mom was concerned and told me that I didn’t have to do it, but I told her that I wanted to do it. She’s excited. She’s been calling us the Kidney Twins, even though she’s already a nervous wreck since both her babies will be having surgery at the exact same time. Dad is real quiet, but he’s told me how proud he is of me. They’ve both told me that. They have both been awesome.
“I’m just excited about it. It’s amazing to think I can actually do something this big. For me, it’s just a kidney, but for him to be able to lead a normal life instead of having to do dialysis three days a week, it’s definitely a blessing.”
Brittany’s full recovery time is approximately four to six weeks, while Caleb said he can expect a six to eight-week recovery period for his surgery, with added follow-up visits at Emory to monitor their progress, which should be plenty of time for them to decide how to celebrate.
“(What she’s doing) hasn’t really hit me yet,” he said. “But we’ve always been close and this will just be another chapter in our story. We may end up getting T-shirts or car stickers or something. Heck, we may even get matching tattoos.”
Caleb and Brittany Hartshorn (Messenger photo/Scott Herpst)