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A Different Kind of Fight: The Journey through Transplant Surgery

 

Greg Hasberry certainly could be described as strong. In his 20s, he was ranked in the top 10 nationally among competitive power lifters. But it was a different kind of strength that helped him get through one of the hardest fights he’s experienced – a fight for his life.

In 2011, the Birmingham resident began training for his first fitness competition in three years. When he began to feel sick one day, he thought it was just the flu.

“I remember just sitting at the kitchen table, and I literally couldn’t move a step after a particularly challenging workout,” Hasberry says. “About 8 hours later, I found myself at the hospital in ICU. About a month later, I woke up and was finally coherent enough to figure out that my kidneys had failed.”

Hasberry’s doctors weren’t sure what had happened, but it was evident that his kidneys were no longer functioning.

“They were hoping my kidneys would regenerate based on my health. I’ve always been a really healthy, very active guy. They were trying to give me every opportunity to have my kidneys regenerate on their own. About a month into the process and after two small procedures in a matter of two weeks, we realized I would need extensive dialysis and a transplant.”

Hasberry was placed on the kidney transplant waiting list, and he began searching for a medical center that offered more comprehensive care.

“You have a lot of different hospitals around the region, and I ended up interviewing at several different hospitals. It just so happened that out of five or six places I went, I ended up right here at home at UAB Medicine’s Comprehensive Transplant Institute,” Hasberry says. “It was excellent medical expertise, beyond excellent. I couldn’t have asked for better care anywhere.”

A Surprising Connection

Hasberry was placed under the care of Michael Hanaway, MD, and he was encouraged to reach out to his social networks to find a living donor. Hasberry says a donor was found in a most unexpected way.

“My donor actually found me. He was an old friend from the fitness industry, and I had called him for some business advice while I was opening up my own gym,” Hasberry says. “We met for coffee, and he asked me about the scar on my left arm. I went ahead and told him my story.”

Hasberry says his friend never let on that he was contemplating being tested to see if he would be a compatible match for his sick friend. A few weeks later, his friend asked to meet for coffee again.

“I thought it was weird because his wife came around the corner, and I thought I was just meeting him. They sat down and were talking about this and that that they had coming up. Next thing I know, he said, ‘Oh and by the way, I’m your kidney donor!’ I pretty much broke down like a baby. I knew I’d gotten a second chance.”

Hasberry says the first thing he did was pull his daughter out of school to tell her the exciting news.

“At the time she was 14, and I knew she was fearful of losing me. It’s always just been my daughter and me,” Hasberry says. “I went straight to school, pulled her out of class, and let her know a donor had been found. That was pretty wild. I think she nearly broke me in half she hugged me so hard. That’s a gift I don’t think I could put a description on at all. It’s hard for me to find the right words to say thank you to him.”

Changing Priorities

Hasberry underwent his kidney transplant in March 2015. He says the surgery and recovery process was difficult, especially the physical weakness he felt after being so strong in the competitive fitness world.

“To go from being this ultra-strong individual physically to literally having a hard time walking to a mailbox was the biggest mind game of all,” Hasberry says. “It was emotional. It ran the gamut from fear, anger, stress, anxiety, elation, and happiness. I could go on and on if you had a dictionary. There’s no one word that can describe the process, but it’s life-changing. My views on life are completely different now, and I’m thankful my UAB care team helped me keep going and never give up.”

Hasberry says he’s been in good health since the operation, and he’s using this second chance to make some important changes in his life.

“The transplant means I can spend more time with the people I love. Beforehand, that was something that I didn’t prioritize. Since then, it’s been something that I really stress,” Hasberry says. “I give more to the community, I volunteer. You gain a greater sense of self, knowing that you made a difference giving to others. You do it because someone did it for you.”

Hasberry says Dr. Hanaway and the rest of his team at UAB Medicine played a critical role in giving him a future he can be proud of: “I can’t thank you enough for giving me a second chance, and I’m not wasting it!”

He also he encourages others to consider becoming a living donor.

“You have the opportunity to continue someone’s life and further enhance your awareness of yourself,” Hasberry says. “Just like my experience, you could give another father or mother more time with their family.”

Click here to learn more about UAB Medicine’s Comprehensive Transplant Institute and how you can share the gift of life by becoming an organ donor.