SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A woman in Sioux Falls received one of the greatest lifesaving gifts she could have asked for after overcoming some big obstacles.
Brandy Louwagie found out she had a type of chronic kidney disease when she was 18 years old, and her doctors thought she would need a transplant within two years.
More than 20 years later, she finally needed one and her brother Bo was a match.
“He donated a kidney in April of last year and then it instantly rejected. My body rejected it, and so then what happened is we kind of waited a little bit to see if for some reason it would start working and it never did,” Louwagie said.
Sujit Vijey Sakpal is a transplant surgeon at Avera.
“The organ clotted off. It wasn’t because of something we had known before. It was an incidental finding after we explored what could have done that, and she has what we in broader terms call hypercoagulable disorder, which means a higher propensity to clot,” Sakpal said.
Louwagie felt despair as she went on dialysis.
“I really didn’t think about myself. My first instinct was my brother just because he donated a kidney, and he hoped to save my life and it didn’t work. And so it’s not like that’s something you can give back to him, so I guess my first thought was really just about him,” she said.
Almost a dozen people came forward to donate a kidney, but the way she found her match was a home run.
“Jason and my husband were very competitive on the field and they played against each other for many years in men’s softball,” she said.
Jason Honey stepped up to the plate.
“I know for sure my husband and I were like, ‘Really? Jason Honey? He’s really going to give you a kidney.’ And I was like, ‘This is crazy. Is he sure?'” Louwagie said.
Honey says he wanted to at least do some tests to see if he would be a match.
“Once I got going down the road a little bit and started to keep going down that road, found out that maybe this could be a possibility, and I never wanted to turn back. I just thought maybe this is my calling in life to help make a difference in somebody else’s life and be that hero to somebody I guess,” Honey said.
The transplant surgery was July 5 of this year.
“We’re 10-12 weeks past this now, and I think we’re both doing great. It was just, you know, a really random meeting to meet her husband, and then kind of become friends with him after not really starting out as friends and then to become friends with Brandy through him,” Honey said.
“I’m just so thankful and grateful that I had so many people watching out for me in my corner and praying if they couldn’t be a donor. Praying that there’s one that comes forward. Just like the worst part of my life is behind me and a lot of that has to do with Bo and Jason stepping up to the plate,” Louwagie said.
Erin Arends is a transplant coordinator at Avera Health. She worked through the process with Louwagie and Honey.
“We get to know these people so well, and they’re part of our transplant family here at Avera, and to be able to continue through with her process and work with her and work with the donors that came forward. There was several people that came forward during that second round to donate to her, and it was just great to have a great outcome at the end,” Arends said.
An outcome that was achieved through struggles and laughs along the way.
“You saved my life. How does that make you feel? Other than your cool t-shirt that you got,” Louwagie asked Honey.
“Awesome, yeah. Awesome, I guess,” he replied. “I would tell anybody that you know that’s afraid to donate a kidney or even go through the process, even if they they don’t have a connection with somebody whether they’re a friend or family member, that God gave us two kidneys and certainly we don’t need both of them. And I think I found out something about myself that once I started the process, I kept telling myself, ‘If I get to the finish line, I’m crossing it.'”
Honey and Louwagie both credit the transplant team at Avera for guiding them.
“When you see something like that, you know, things go wrong. Obviously it brings us down, but then you just have to lift yourself up, get back and find other ways to help that patient. And to see Brandy and Jason’s story come through, it’s extremely rewarding for every person who’s invested,” Sakpal said.
“If this story can reach even one donor or one recipient and give them any sort of hope and give them any sort of indication of just filling out the form online to become a donor to save somebody else’s life. I know there’s many people who don’t have hope and they say, ‘I’m too old to get a kidney and I’m going to die of kidney failure.’ That’s what we really hope to put out there is that you can actually make a difference for somebody who maybe doesn’t have anybody else in their corner,” Louwagie said.
Louwagie and Honey say they are doing well and had some follow-up appointments after the surgery. Louwagie will now continue meet with her kidney doctor every year.