A good kidney is a terrible thing to waste.
So Ray Fearing, a 27-year-old Arlington Heights man battling a kidney disease, didn't.
Fearing received a kidney from his sister, Cera, after long suffering focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a disease that forms scar tissue on part of the kidney and ultimately causes kidney failure.
But days after the transplant, the disease started attacking the donated organ and creating potentially life-threatening problems.
"It was very apparent they would have to remove the kidney," Ray Fearing said Wednesday. "That was probably the hardest moment on me emotionally."
Then doctors told Ray there was good news. The kidney could be re-transplanted into someone else, and perhaps save someone’s life.
But there were no guarantees. Northwestern nephrologist Lorenzo Gallon said there was science to back up the surgery, but no one had proven that a kidney potentially damaged after a transplant into one patient, would then work in another, just because the second patient didn’t have the medical problems of the first.
"If you have a surgeon who’s got the guts enough to do it, then go ahead and do it," Dr. Gallon said he was told while after consulting with ethicists and other doctors around the world and at Northwestern.
Northwestern Dr. Joseph Leventhal was one of those surgeons.
"Ray himself was really interested in trying to make lemonade out of lemons... by having some good come out of this transplant," he said
Just two weeks after receiving his sister’s kidney, Ray Fearing donated it to Erwin Gomez, a 67-year-old cardio vascular surgeon and father of five.
Gomez said he remembers being on a shopping trip at Costco and getting the call from the doctor.
"He told me he had a kidney for me. He told me I'm a very good match. He told me I was an ideal candidate."
He chuckled then, recalling the next word: "However..."
The Northwestern nephrologists also told him that unlike getting a kidney from a live donor in his family, getting a kidney this way had risks. But hours after transplantation, the doctors said Gomez was doing so well it was clear the surgery was likely to be a success.
On Wednesday, nearly a year later, Gomez and his youngest son met for the first time with the people who saved his life.
Gomez said he has a new lease on life thanks to the Fearings. Ray himself is back on dialysis but he said he hasn't lost hope.
"It may not have been my time, but I am grateful that I was able to help another patient," said Fearing in a statement. "My day will come."
The results of the procedures will be featured in the April 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.