My son Eric Gray says he is not a hero, but to me he is. He didn’t run into a burning building or shield his dad from a bullet, but he did save his life.
His father, Floyd has polycystic kidney disease and by 1995 his kidney function had dropped to about 20%. His kidneys were unable to filter out all of the toxins in his body. Although he tried to hide it from the family, he was feeling sick a lot of the time. Since there is no cure for polycystic kidney disease, his only hope was for a kidney transplant.
One weekend Floyd was operating a dozer to level the ground around the house Eric had built for his young family. Eric noticed his dad get off the dozer and go around to the back of the house. Worried, he went to check on him and found him on his knees so nauseated; he couldn’t work. That was the moment Eric made up his mind. He would be a kidney donor for his dad. Being a mother afraid for her child to take a risk when to me his life was just starting, I tried to persuade him to wait to see if his dad could get a kidney by going on the transplant list. Eric’s reply was, “Mom, I can’t stand to see Dad sick. You don’t get to make this decision. I’m going to give Dad a kidney.”
In February 1996, Eric donated a kidney to his father. His surgeon assured the family before the surgery that the donor’s health was his top priority and that the surgery would not proceed if they found any complication that might endanger the donor. For sixteen years, father and son have been doing well. There is a very special bond between them. In my eyes, Eric saved his father’s life and he is my hero.
But our family’s story does not end there. There is another hero in our family, our younger son Jared. Polycystic kidney disease is hereditary, and our daughter Melinda also has the disease. She was only 40 years old with two young daughters when her kidney function dropped so low that she needed a transplant. Her kidneys, enlarged by all the cysts, were causing her severe back pain, and in March of 2003, she had both kidneys removed and had to be on dialysis. Her younger brother Jared gave her the gift of life. In May 2003, he gave her a kidney. How ironic! As children, Melinda had always been Jared’s protector, the older sister who let nobody harm her little brother.
I am writing this not to brag about my sons, but to let other people know that it is possible to be a living donor without putting your life at risk. The donors are carefully screened, and they will not be accepted if there is a problem that would make it risky for them. Everyone that goes on the transplant list will not get a kidney. Knowing that, some people might be willing to go through this surgery to save the life of a family member or a friend. What greater expression of love could there be? I was wrong to try to dissuade Eric from being a donor. I’m certain he would tell you that having his father enjoying life for sixteen years and counting was way more than worth it!
At the request of Johnson County Circuit Court Clerk Vicki Crace Rice, Floyd Gray served six years on the board of Trust for Life.