The gift that keeps on giving

Published 10:39 pm Saturday, December 3, 2011

Collin and Jacki Bruce

Couple participates in indirect kidney swap

During this holiday season, a Smithfield couple is going to experience a whole new side of gift giving.

Collin Bruce is set to donate one of his kidneys, and Jacki Bruce is set to receive a kidney transplant — but it won’t be from her husband.

Dialysis: Jacki Bruce shows off her home dialysis machine on Friday. She is looking forward to not having to use it anymore after she receives a kidney transplant from a living donor on Tuesday. Her husband Collin will donate a kidney as a living donor to another person.

Instead, the couple is participating in a non-directed kidney swap coordinated by the National Kidney Registry.

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On Tuesday, Collin Bruce will donate a kidney that will go to a recipient in another state, and at the same time, Jacki Bruce will receive a transplant from someone else.

“We’re excited,” Jacki Bruce said. “And we’re just a little nervous.”

She said she isn’t nervous about the surgery going well, but she just wants to make sure everything goes well after the transplant.

“You’ve got four people that have to stay healthy after this,” Collin Bruce said.

The couple’s journey to this transplant option started in 2006 when Jacki Bruce was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Soon after her diagnosis, she found out her kidneys were starting to fail.

“It happened very rapidly,” her husband said. “She was diagnosed with diabetes, and less than a year later, her kidneys were failing.”

As a result, Jacki Bruce has been on dialysis for almost five years.

She received the treatment at a center initially, but for the past four years, she has done home dialysis.

Despite the dialysis, Jacki Bruce said, a kidney transplant was always the goal.

She said she immediately got on the deceased donor list but knew the demand for kidneys is too high for deceased donors to accommodate alone.

Jacki Bruce said she thought a direct transplant was her best option, but she didn’t have anyone who could be a living donor.

“My mother wanted to be a donor, but she was over the age limit,” she said. “My brother also tried, but he wasn’t a match.”

Collin Bruce had the same problem.

“We knew he couldn’t donate to me,” Jacki Bruce said. “I’m an O (blood type), and he’s a B. It’s not a match.”

However, early last year, the couple found out about non-directed swaps, and they figured it was the perfect way for Collin Bruce to help his wife.

“Her doctor said if you are still willing, you can still donate a kidney,” Collin Bruce said. “It is basically in her name.”

Jacki and Collin Bruce agreed to embark on this journey in April 2010, and for months, Collin underwent extensive analysis to ensure he could be a donor.

He discussed his decision to be a donor with several physicians, a psychologist, a social worker and even a chaplain.

He said the doctors checked to ensure he was in good health, but they were also looking for other answers.

“They want to make sure you aren’t doing it for money or being pushed to do it,” he said.

Last August, Collin Bruce was added as a living donor, but he wanted to wait until his wife had a kidney waiting for her before he would go under the knife.

“I just wanted to make sure she would get her kidney, too,” he said.

That day came more than a year later this October, when Jacki Bruce got a call that she had a kidney waiting for her.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “I had been feeling bad and a little down, and I got the call. I was laughing, I was crying, and I was dancing around with the phone.”

The couple will have their surgeries on Tuesday, but they will have to recover for four to six weeks.

After the recovery, Collin Bruce said, he will have to take good care of his remaining kidney, but he can get back to work and his life won’t change much.

“You can live fine with one kidney, but you have to watch it,” he said.

On the other hand, Jacki Bruce said, she will be closely monitored by her doctors to ensure her body doesn’t reject the transplant.

But the couple said they have confidence everything will go great and hope things will go back to the way they were before Jacki Bruce got sick.

“We’re getting our lives back,” she said. “We’ll be able to travel without worrying. I’ll be able to eat more stuff. I’ll have a healthy diet, but it won’t be restricted.”

Collin Bruce said he hopes their story will show people there is a way to donate a kidney as a gift to a loved one, even if you aren’t a match.

“We thought we needed to let people know about (the non-direct swap),” he said. “I recommend it to everybody.”

Collin Bruce said he jumped at the opportunity to do something to help his wife.

“My motivation is that my wife is in pain and suffering, and it turns out there’s something I can do to make her feel better,” he said. “And in the process, I can help someone else — someone who is suffering the way she is.”

Jacki Bruce said she is proud of her husband for giving such a great gift on her behalf.

“He’s saving two lives,” she said. “He’s saving my life indirectly, and he is saving the life of the person who will get his kidney.”