With a little help from his friend...
Herra receives the gift of life from his best friend
By JAMIE POTE
The Beatles certainly influenced many lives and impacted many people. And perhaps that’s why 26-year-old Michael Herra of Wilmington is planning to have a line from one of their hit songs emblazoned on his body after fully recovering from his recent kidney transplant surgery.
“I’m going to get a tattoo over the summer that will say ‘I get by with a little help from my friends,’” said Herra.
On Monday night, Herra joined his family, friends - and one close friend in particular; David Aronofsky, 25, also of Wilmington - at the Horseshoe Lounge in North Reading. The get-together was a celebration of Herra’s being well on his way to full recovery.
Following kidney failure, Herra spent the last two years on dialysis. He underwent a four-hour surgery at Tufts Hospital back on February 23, in which he accepted a kidney from Aronofsky, who agreed to be a donor for his close buddy.
“When we started to talk about the transplant, I don’t even know if I even asked Dave,” explained Herra. “We were going in for testing and he just came, and when we were there Dave and my mother (Bev) were the only ones who were compatible. And then after more testing was done, it was just Dave who was compatible. I don’t think I ever asked him to donate his kidney - he just did it.”
It was sometime around February of 2008 that Herra began feeling discomfort, and then it started to get worse over the next few months.
“I got sick right around when the Patriots lost in the Super Bowl (to the Giants),” he said. “I waited around thinking it would go away for about three months and then I finally went to the doctor’s, and he said it was kidney failure, and I needed a kidney transplant. I started dialysis and was on it for 22 months.”
According to Herra, the doctors suspected that his kidneys were originally damaged from a childhood bout with strep throat, and that they degenerated over the years.
“They weren’t positive, but when they did the biopsy they said my kidneys were just junk, and they had no use,” said Herra. “So it didn’t matter how it happened; I knew that I needed a transplant.”
Prior to his diagnosis, Herra was a very active person, always playing football and basketball with his friends. In high school Herra was a quarterback, and also was a member of the league champion boys basketball team - along with teammate Aronofsky - that reached the Division 3 North Sectional Final for the first time in school history.
After the diagnosis, all that changed.
“He didn’t go out and he didn’t hang out with us,” explained Aronofsky. “He was tired all of the time. He couldn’t play sports as much as he used too and he didn’t have the first step that he used too. Sports is a big part of both of our lives and his personality wasn’t the same. He was always down and upset that he was sick.
“It was tough seeing him like that because we always played sports together, like basketball and flag football. And it wasn’t like him to be so out of it. Seeing him go into dialysis all of that time was so tough and it certainly took its toll on him going three hours a day, three days a week, so I figured I would do anything I could to help him out.”
Aronofsky took a trip Herra and his family to the hospital, basically just to get first hand news about how serious Herra’s condition really was.
“I didn’t know what blood type I was or anything, but I figured just to go and get checked out, and plus I wanted to hear what the doctors had to say about his condition, about the surgery and how the whole process goes,” said Aronofsky. “I at least wanted to hear all of that even if I couldn’t donate.”
After getting tested, Herra found out the good news that indeed there was a match for him.
“I don’t remember asking him,” said Herra. “When all of my friends saw me the first time in the hospital they all said they would donate a kidney but then only one of my friends got tested and it was Dave and it was a match. There are so many tests and for Dave to match was just crazy.”
And what if Aronofsky wasn’t a match?
“Dialysis isn’t good for your heart and you are a lot more likely for strokes and stuff like that, but I don’t know if I would have died without it, because I was in pretty good shape, but I would have been on the waiting list for at least five years,” he said. “Plus my blood type is very rare. I have O-positive, and I can only take O-positive. I can give it to anyone but can only take O-positive, and it happened to be Dave and that’s just crazy.”
Once they found out about the match, the next six months were all about tests, more tests, postponements and some deep discussions.
“We thought the operation was going to happen last summer, and then it got pushed back several times,” said Herra. “It just took a while between getting the hospital ready, trying to get me in the best physical shape for the surgery, and then it got planned for January and it got pushed back to the start of February, and it got pushed back again to February 23rd.”
All that waiting, admitted Aronofsky, wasn’t all that easy on the nerves.
“I would say that we both were nervously joking,” he said. “I was busting on him saying ‘oh you’re going to get my kidney’ but it’s still nerve-racking because you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a chance that it wouldn’t take and there’s a risk involved. They have to tell you going in that there is a chance you could die, and you have to sign a paper saying that’s okay, so that’s kind of scary, but my mother (Donna) is a nurse and she was very supportive and positive throughout the whole thing.
“I honestly just wanted to get it done. I had never had surgery before - nothing like stitches or broken bones, so I just wanted to get it over with and to see him do better.”
Constant visits to the hospital gave them both a chance to reflect on what was going to happen; how much it would change both of their lives, all the while helping them become even better friends.
“When we were in the hospital we talked about it and he was very thankful,” said Aronofsky. “But I love him and he loves me and we’ve been great friends since we were little, so it’s awesome that it all worked out. We had one pretty lengthy talk about it, but since then it’s like ‘Okay, are you going to buy me a beer?”
The operation was performed on Tuesday, February 23rd by Dr. Scott Cooper and a team of doctors at Tufts Medical Center. It took almost four hours to complete the procedure.
“Dave went in first and they took the kidney out of him,” explained Herra. “And while they were working on him, they got me in a little bit later, cut me open and they just took Dave’s kidney out, walked it across the room and put it in me.
“And once it finally happened, everything went great. The kidney was working great. As soon as I woke up it was making urine. I couldn’t tell the difference because I was so drugged up, but everyone was saying that the color was back in my face. And then as soon as I knew what was going on, I felt a thousand times better.”
That was clearly obvious to everyone, especially Aronofsky.
“It’s great. I’ve know him since I was five years old and after the surgery, he got his color back in his face, he has energy and he is completely healthy now,” said Aronofsky. “It just means the world to all of us that he’s back healthy.”
It’s been six weeks since the surgery and on Monday night, the two of them were with their family and friends, having drinks and food, and most especially enjoying each other’s company, knowing that everyone there was completely healthy.
“Dave doesn’t have any restrictions, but he’s still sore,” said Herra. “I’m not too bad. I’ll be on medicine for the rest of my life, but that’s a lot easier to deal with than dialysis. The doctors want you to be moving around, so we’ve already been down to the high school shooting foul shots and stuff. And I feel great. I haven’t felt this good in so long. I feel normal again.”
Herra said that he plans on going back to work in probably a month or two, and Aronofsky, who is a bartender at the Horseshoe Lounge, said he will slowly get back behind the bar in about two weeks, where he will see his buddy Mike on the other side, with a new kidney and with a huge smile.
“I could have died,” said Herra. “It’s tough to explain what this means to me. It’s more than I can ever imagine or more than I could ever say. I don’t think I could put into words how grateful I am. I wasn’t going to die right away but Dave saved my life. I was miserable. I didn’t want to go out and he gave me my life back basically.
“I just felt like I was 24-years old and my life was put on pause, and it stunk. And now because of the transplant, the end is near and I should be near normal again within a few more months.”
And in a few months when he feels good enough to play flag football and drive the lane on the basketball courts, Mike Herra will know the entire time that he is able to do that with “a little help from his friends.”