Source: Billings Gazette
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Dan Cepeda/Casper Star-Tribune
Ty Herron poses with his dogs in his backyard recently in Casper. Herron, a Casper firefighter, donated his kidney to his ill older brother in April.(Courtesy photo)

Kidney donations

Donated kidneys don’t need to come from family members, said Doug Herron. People also give the organ anonymously. For more information about kidney donations, visit the National Kidney Foundation

As a Casper firefighter, Tye Herron helps strangers in need.

But last month, he lent a hand to someone in his own family, donating a kidney to his diabetic older brother, Doug.

Tye, a fire engineer with more than eight years in the department, remains modest about the gift, repeatedly noting that he needs only one kidney to survive. But Doug, 49, said the transplant has given him a new life.

“That’s a very special thing,” he said. “It puts me in a position that now, my future is up to me.”

Tye, 35, is the second person in his family to donate an organ to his brother. In 1995, their mother, Judy, gave one of her kidneys to her son.

“There are people out there who are willing to sacrifice their time and their health for a relatively short period of time to make me healthier, and I think that is pretty cool,” Doug said. “They are doing something they don’t have to do for me.”

Doug Herron, who lives in Aurora, Colo., began experiencing kidney problems more than 20 years ago. He’s been a diabetic since age 7, and the disease, combined with high blood pressure, eventually led them to fail while he was in his early 30s.

He wound up on dialysis — a procedure that helps to remove waste from the blood when the kidneys can no longer perform the job. His health deteriorated and he suffered from weakness, nausea and exhaustion.

“I was pretty close to bedridden prior to my first transplant,” he said. “It was a huge challenge to get out of bed and do (dialysis) three times a week.”

Eventually, health problems forced him back to Casper so his parents could help. Herron’s health continued to deteriorate, and both of his kidneys failed. Finally, his mother volunteered as a donor.

“She was pretty firm about it that I wasn’t getting any better and it was time to make a change,” he said.

Herron’s doctors didn’t consider her as an ideal donor, but they went ahead with the transplant because of the severity of his illness.

Doug’s health immediately began to improve. His energy and color returned and he felt better than he had in years.

“It was very touching,” he said. “Essentially, she gave me a new life. That’s a pretty special thing. Without that, I don’t know if I would have lasted another year. I think it is safe to say I wouldn’t have because I was very, very weak.”

With the new kidney, Herron was able to finish college and get a job as a buyer for a building materials firm. Doctors told him the kidney would last five or six years. Instead, it did the job for 13.

Last year, he suffered a bad virus and was told the transplanted kidney was beginning to fail. The weakness returned, and he soon struggled to do simple things like grocery shopping.

“There are a lot of questions at that point,” he said. “Whether you are fit for surgery? Whether the transplant team will accept you as a transplant candidate?”

His wife, Vicki, began tests to determine if she was an acceptable candidate for the transplant. Then his brother stepped in.

“As soon as I heard (the kidney was failing) and he started dialysis, I just thought, ‘I could help him,’ ” Tye said. “Why wouldn’t I?”

In February and March, Tye underwent a series of tests before finally getting the OK to move forward with the surgery.

“I was pretty excited,” Tye said. “I wanted to do it as soon as possible because the longer it took, the longer he would be on dialysis.”

Doctors at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver performed the transplant April 8. They made two small incisions in Tye’s abdomen for their scopes and a 2-inch cut to remove the kidney.

“It’s amazing,” Tye said. “It is really no big deal for them.”

The brothers recovered in the same room and left the hospital four days after the operation.

Doug Herron said his health has greatly improved since the surgery. He’s done with dialysis and has recovered enough strength to remodel his basement.

He’s looking forward to going back to work, traveling without a dialysis machine and just enjoying a normal life. With new transplant drugs, he expects the new kidney to last a lifetime.

“Tye did the same thing Mom did; he gave me a new life,” Doug said.

Tye, meanwhile, is back in Casper and plans to return to active duty next month. The human body only needs one functioning kidney, so the transplant won’t affect his job, Tye said.

“I have no regrets about doing it,” he said. “It changed a couple of months of my life, but it changed my brother’s life forever.”