All along, Andy Tappe thought the headaches may be a symptom of migraines.
Never did he give a second thought to it being anything worse.
"I saw an optometrist and got a pair of reading glasses. They didn't help," said Tappe, the 28-year-old Quincy native who was living in Chicago and working as an accountant when his health problems began last September. "I ran into a chiropractor in our office one day. She thought it was my posture and my neck. It wasn't. Things got progressively worse.
"I would be driving home from work, and it felt like I was driving after having 12 beers."
It finally forced him to go to the doctor last April and undergo a battery of tests. He was given a prescription for high blood pressure medicine and sent home to his suburban Chicago apartment.
"I thought they were going to diagnose me with migraines," Tappe said.
At 9 o'clock that night, he found out otherwise.
A nurse from the doctor's office called and told Tappe he needed to be admitted to the emergency room immediately. He spent the next three days in the intensive care unit wondering what might be wrong.
"I had some shortness of breath, and I was worried I had a heart problem," Tappe said. "I was pretty freaked out. I was trying to stay as positive as possible, but it was pretty difficult."
Ultimately, the doctors discovered Tappe was suffering kidney failure, with his right kidney functioning at only 30 percent. He was given only one treatment option -- a transplant.
"That was the roughest day I've had," Tappe said.
Five months have since passed, and Tappe is emotionally and physically prepared for Thursday's surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago in which lifelong friend Jessica Freiburg will donate a kidney so he can live a prosperous, normal life.
"I can't put into words what her gift means," Tappe said.
She doesn't want him to.
"One day, he turned to me and said, 'I want you to know how grateful I am,'" said Freiburg, who has known Tappe since kindergarten, graduated from Quincy Notre Dame with him and lives about a block away from him in Oak Park. "I know that. I don't need to hear it and I'm not doing this for that reason. I just want to help my friend out.
"Any way I could do that, I was going to do that."
It's why she approached him with the idea.
The optimum donor would have been Tappe's younger brother, Alex; however, the blood types didn't match. His mother, Kathy, and father, Tony, weren't ideal donors either.
The only option was to find a donor outside the family.
Tappe received a stack of donor information packets from the Northwestern doctors, and while watching a Blackhawks playoff game with a group of friends at Tappe's apartment, Freiburg asked for one of the packets.
"I wondered how it worked," Freiburg said. "How do you find out if you can be a donor?"
Freiburg filled out some of the paperwork, but when she received a call from the doctors at Northwestern, she was a little shocked.
"I didn't even have an idea what my blood type was," she said.
It turns out she is O-positive, making her a universal donor.
"In my mind, I thought if I'm a match, it's meant to be," Freiburg said. "God made me this for a reason."
To prepare, Freiburg had to undergo her own battery of tests to ensure she was physically fit to handle the surgery.
"I gave a ton of blood," Freiburg said. "And it turned out everything was cool."
A bigger challenge awaited.
They had to prepare for surgery through an experimental program in which Tappe is just one of fewer than 25 patients taking part.
Doctors at Northwestern are using specially processed stem cells from a donor to help establish a "twin" immune system in the recipient that lets the body recognize a donated organ as its own. It makes rejection less likely and can help a patient ween themselves off anti-rejection medicine.
The process includes breaking down the organ recipient's immune system through a series of intense chemotherapy treatments. Tappe checked into the hospital Sunday to begin those treatments.
"The chemo has definitely kicked in," said Freiburg, who has had limited contact with Tappe this week. "You have to keep him grounded and remembering it's not a quick fix. It's not like you're going to feel great right away. He's definitely going through some tough stuff."
He's been through it before.
Going into his senior year in high school, Tappe was expected to be one of the premier hitters and first basemen in the area. However, during the preseason, he suffered torn knee ligaments that sidelined him the entire season.
At the time, he thought nothing could be worse.
"It was so much harder than this," Tappe said. "It's much easier to handle this having gone through that. When you're a senior in high school, your priorities are different."
You don't have a girlfriend or a job to worry about. Not that Tappe has had to worry much about those.
He started a new job in December with J.P. Morgan and Associates, and his boss had gone through beating cancer. So they have been extremely supportive and understanding, especially with Tappe needing to leave work at 2:30 p.m. three days a week to undergo dialysis.
"It was time consuming," said Tappe, who watched TV and played on his iPhone during the five-hour treatments. "But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
It's exhilarating and numbing at the same time.
"I'm a little nervous about the surgery, just wanting everything to go right," Freiburg said. "I'm not nervous about having one kidney for the rest of my life. I know it's completely worth it. ... I definitely don't live life worrying about what's going to happen in the future. I live for one day at a time. I know the future is going to be better for all of us."
The Andy Tappe Kidney Benefit will be from 1-6 p.m. Sept. 19 at The Ambiance. Admission is a $5 donation. Fielder and the Horn Dogs will perform. Food, auctions and raffles will be held. Financial donations can be sent to Andy Tappe Kidney Benefit, c/o Heartland Bank, 2001 Maine, Quincy, IL 62301. For more information, contact Luke Tappe at 224-9705.