BATAVIA – Scott Buckingham said he would give someone else the shirt off his back, but it is not easy for him to ask for help for himself.
“I’m not that guy,” he said.
But now that his doctors have told him he will need to find a living donor for a new kidney to keep himself alive, he knows he has to get over that reluctance.
Buckingham, 46, was 22 years old when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He lived his life for the next 18 years without complications. When he turned 40, however, his kidneys started to fail.
He was placed on a transplant list in 2011 for a kidney donation and waited almost four years before receiving a match. By the time he had the transplant surgery, his kidney function was down to 2 percent. Luckily, he was able to receive a pancreas transplant at the same time, which cured his diabetes.
However, Buckingham was only able to enjoy about six months of good health as he soon contracted two infections, one on top of the other, which destroyed about 80 percent of his new kidney. He would need another transplant.
This time, he was told because of the additional antibodies in his system from the first transplant, the wait for a donor kidney match from the list could take 10 to 12 years, and he likely would not live that long without it. He would need to use social media and other means to see if there was anyone out there willing to donate one of their kidneys to him.
He has a website called akidney4scottbuckingham.com, and he and his family are hoping for a miracle – that a person will read his story and be moved to come forward and donate a kidney to save his life. He said finding a match with his blood type, O, would be ideal. However, through Northwestern Medicine Kovler Organ Transplantation Center’s organ exchange program, a transplant for him would still be possible without that match.
This time, he is not alone in the fight for his life.
“I have a very, very strong support network,” he said.
He and his wife, Janina Buckingham, were married in August 2016. The couple met six years ago when he was diabetic and on the waiting list for a kidney. They began their relationship as friends. When they ended up falling in love, he told her he would not get married until he was healthy again.
Once his transplant took place, he was recovering, and they began planning their wedding.
Janina Buckingham said when he began failing again, there was no way she was going to leave him then.
“Our wedding almost took place in the hospital,” she said with a laugh.
She said going through this together has made their relationship stronger.
“We’ve been through so much in six years,” she said. “It’s been a roller coaster for sure.”
Their church community has been there for them, as well. The Batavia couple and her daughter, Janedis Colon, belong to The Orchard Community church in North Aurora, where the Rev. Scott Hodge performed their wedding ceremony. Two of the members have begun the testing process to see if they could be the donor Buckingham is looking for.
A chance conversation a few weeks ago almost turned into a kidney donation for him. On March 23, he and his wife were out with friends when he mentioned his situation. It turned out the niece of one of the group was in a coma, and they were going to take her off life support on Sunday, March 25.
Testing of the woman revealed she was a match. Additional testing took place all day March 25 and at 5 p.m., they took her off life support. But she did not expire until after the time frame allowed for the kidney to still be transplantable.
“I was an emotional wreck on Monday,” he said. “It was a tremendous blow, but it shows you how quickly things can move. It does give me hope.”
He acknowledged the whole situation has been very stressful for him and his wife and daughter, as well as his parents. However, he said he believes that things happen for a reason.
“We just have to keep the faith,” he said.
Janet Aminoff, social worker for Northwestern Medicine Kovler Organ Transplantation Center, said there are three things the program looks for in a living donor: The blood type must be the same or compatible, although the positive and negative don’t matter, she said; the size of the kidney has to be small enough to fit the space in the recipient’s body; and the type of antibodies in the person’s body is an important factor, too.
In addition, the age of the donor should not be more than about 10 years older than the recipient, and there cannot be any underlying health conditions.
The risks of being a donor are the same as for any surgery, she said, including infection, pneumonia, blood clots, blood loss and pain. The financial burden involves not being able to go back to work after the surgery for three weeks to a month, although the recipient’s insurance does pay for the donor workup and the surgery.
“People can live with one kidney,” Aminoff said.
She said donors can be friends, family or simply good Samaritans. Giving something that can save the life of someone else can be a great feeling, she said.
If someone is moved by Buckingham’s story to consider becoming a donor, more information is offered at www.nm.org/conditions-and-care-areas/organ-transplantation/living-donor-organ-transplantation. Information also is available through the National Kidney Foundation at www.kidney.org/transplantation/livingdonors.