Published January 16, 2012
Clay Taber, 23, had just graduated college in August 2010 when doctors told him he was in complete kidney failure. Now, less than two years later, he’s getting ready to marry his long-time girlfriend after a transplant nurse donated her own kidney to him.
Taber, who is from Columbus, Ga., celebrated his birthday and his college graduation from Auburn University in Alabama when he began feeling ill and suffering from occasional night sweats. Originally, he tested positive for some signs of mononucleosis, but additional tests revealed his kidneys were in failure.
“I was in the grocery store when my phone rang,” said Clay’s mother, Sandra Taber, in a press release. “It was the doctor’s office, and they told me new tests showed that Clay was in complete kidney failure. He needed to get to a hospital immediately. Needless to say, it was one of those phone calls no parent ever wants to receive about their child.”
Doctors diagnosed Taber with Goodpasture's syndrome, a life-threatening disorder, which causes the immune system to create antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. The disorder can be triggered by a viral infection or by the inhalation of gasoline or other hydrocarbon solvents. Taber had recently taken a trip to the Gulf of Mexico and wondered if swimming in water affected by the recent oil spill could have impacted his health.
Luckily, the disorder was discovered before Taber’s lungs were affected, but he still needed a kidney transplant. He was admitted to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on the transplant unit floor, where, by chance, he met nurse Allison Batson.
“Immediately, when Clay came onto our unit, he became a special patient that everyone just gravitated to,” Batson, 48, said in a press release. “Here was this young man with everything in his life ahead of him, and he was fighting for his life. He quickly became friends of many of the staff, and really was just a tremendous inspiration to us all.”
Taber was one of 90,000 people in the United States waiting for a donor kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. He was placed on the waiting list for a cadaver kidney, but doctors told him he likely wouldn’t receive one for three to five years.
Taber’s mother tested positive as a potential match for him, but the doctors decided the lining of her kidneys was too thin to remove one.
That was when Batson, who had known Taber for only six weeks, decided to step forward.
“It just devastated [Sandra], and I really related to her as a mom,” said Batson, who has four adult children. “I thought, you know what, ‘I can do this.’ I talked to my family about it, and all of them were incredibly supportive.”
Batson tested positive as a match, and doctors determined that her kidneys were healthy enough for the transplant. Leading up to the day of the surgery, she said she had no reservations.
“I knew just from meeting him that this young man needs a chance to start his life the way he should,” Batson said. “My husband and I are fortunate to have four grown children who are doing very well. One of them just got married the summer before I met Clay, and he told me he was about to get married, and that point I said, ‘Well, you had me at hello.’”
Taber said he was ‘completely overwhelmed’ by Batson’s offer. “I was very emotional,” he said. “It’s been a long year and a half. I know there are a lot of other people out there on dialysis and with kidney failure worse than me. The fact that Alison would do this – after no longer than six weeks knowing me – was very special. It made me feel very blessed.”
Both Taber and Batson’s procedures went as planned. Today, Taber is preparing for his wedding in June, and he hopes in the future to pursue a banking career or work in the athletic department of his alma mater. He calls Batson his ‘third mom’ alongside his own mother and the mother of his fiancé.
The fact is, according to Batson, anyone who is determined eligible for a transplant can donate at any time – even to a stranger.
“You can sign your driver’s license and say you want to be a donor, but I don’t think it occurs to a lot people that you don’t have to wait,” Batson said. “I mean, if you are healthy and get through the approval process – and believe me, they won’t let you do it unless you qualify –you can step up and do it for anybody.”
In fact, Batson said, she once witnessed a medical student who had spent some time in a dialysis clinic step up and donate a kidney to a stranger.
“He just said, ‘you know what, I can do this. I have two kidneys, and there’s no reason not to.’ I thought that was very selfless.”
Taber added, “When somebody is in need, it’s amazing to see what people are capable of.”