The Perfect Match: When Love Means Giving an Organ
It was straight out of an episode of House. Late in the summer of 2010, Ryan Doughty was overcome by a series of strange symptoms that developed quickly: fatigue, swollen ankles, dry mouth, chills, spasms in his legs and feet, then vomiting and sleeplessness. Although he maintained that he was OK, that it was probably just a cold, his longtime boyfriend, Joshua Taylor, was worried.
In the end, that worry brought them to the emergency room and then eventually to an operating room where Taylor would give his boyfriend a kidney.
Taylor first rushed his boyfriend to the emergency room after finding out Doughty was unable to urinate. The hospital ran tests. And what was a mystery to the couple became clear to doctors. They diagnosed Doughty with glomerulonephritis, or swollen kidneys.
His doctor believes Doughty may have lived with the condition for over 10 years — even though he’d had no symptoms. The cause is unknown, but Doughty's nephrologist speculates maybe it was a virus or an untreated case of strep throat years earlier. The result of Doughty's diagnosis was end-stage renal failure. His kidneys only had 5% of their function left.
Renal failure affects more than 20 million people in the United States and is rising every year. "One day I felt perfectly healthy, the next day I had no kidneys and I was toxic,” Doughty said. “It was a scary feeling, but there were options and a way to treat it. I wasn't going to give up. I kept my spirits positive. I just looked forward and didn't think too much.”
Taylor and Doughty had been sweethearts for 15 years. They say they fell in love at first sight at the Congress Tavern in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Both had just graduated from college, Taylor from Vassar and Doughty from the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase.
They moved in together in New York's East Village, where they went on to spend 10 years and eventually wound their way back to the beautiful Hudson Valley in 2004, settling in a converted loft in an old firehouse in downtown Poughkeepsie's historic district. Since falling in love all those summers ago, they worked as the DJ duo Prephab and have been partners in both business and love.
But Taylor had to fill in more after the diagnosis. Doughty was placed on hemodialysis, a treatment that initially caused a seizure. Hemo can take three to four hours a day and is administered three times a week at a dialysis center. Afterward patients feel like they ran a three-mile marathon. Doughty chose to change his treatment to peritoneal dialysis because it’s a more natural process and allows him to do treatments at home. Further testing revealed his creatinine level was a 39 — the highest the hospital had ever seen. They became aware that his kidneys had probably failed at least two years prior to his diagnosis. He had been walking around with virulent toxins and poisons building until his body couldn't take it anymore.
Doughty needed a transplant, or these treatments were going to last the rest of his life. Finding a kidney is a tremendously long process often fraught with high expectations and dashed hopes. It can try even the most patient of people.
If you're lucky, it can take three to six years to find a match. Many willing donors are ineligble because of health issues. So there aren’t enough kidneys to go around, which makes the process highly selective. Said Taylor: "Donor's list, dean's list, highly selective ... so much of the language they use makes this horrifying process sound like you're applying to college. I finally agreed to get tested as a donor."
After eight tense weeks, the results came in: Taylor was a match.
"We didn't want to rush into this,” said Doughty. “We wanted to make sure the timing was right. So we scheduled the surgery for the following spring. This gave us enough time to prepare for it mentally and physically."
The transplant was done successfully this past April.
"Josh and I share a kidney,” said Doughty. “We are connected in a way most couples aren't. It’s a testament to our relationship. No government can deny us that.” But more important, Doughty is healthy. He’s got energy that he hasn’t felt in a long time. “Now that I have Josh's kidney, I feel as if I have a second chance on life.”
Instead of dialysis every night, Doughty takes medication twice a day.
“It is drastically better than dialysis,” he said. “I wish all renal patients could have the chance to get transplanted. I’m ready to have new adventures and to continue to share my life with Josh. The transplant was the easy part! Josh and I had minimal time in the hospital and a very quick recovery. We are doing better than expected.”
This weekend the couple were hired to DJ for Gay Pride weekend festivities in bucolic upstate Hudson, NY. They just celebrated their 15th anniversary.
“Everyone should consider being a donor,” Doughty said. “It’s a beautiful, thankless act that saves lives."
For photos from Hudson Pride boat party, view the following pages.
Lisa Kozlowski, Isis Vermouth, and Ryan Doughty
Stephan Hengst and Patrick Decker of BigGayHudsonValley.com, with Michael Matejczuk and Jake Booth.
Julieta Salgado and Julia Weldon