UAB Medicine News


Living Kidney Donor and Recipient Share Special Bond


In the 1990s, Shaun Pezant was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary disease that causes clusters of cysts to develop in the kidneys.

“My mother has polycystic kidney disease, and I went to be tested. Sure enough, I tested positive,” Pezant says. “At first I thought it was something I would deal with in my sixties or seventies, and I was told that it was a disease that would progress slowly. For me, the disease took a turn and started to progress rapidly, and I was really unprepared.”

Pezant’s nephrology group at the time couldn’t get him in for an appointment for three months, so he turned to UAB Medicine.

“I made a cold call from the yellow pages to UAB Medicine, and I happened to be placed with one of the premier researchers of polycystic kidney disease. It was then that I learned I needed a kidney transplant,” he says.

Looking for a Living Donor

Pezant says that as the disease got worse, he became more concerned about his future.

“I’m a father, so there was definitely a healthy dose of fear. I had come to the realization that the waiting list for a kidney was seven to 10 years, and the way my disease had started to progress, I didn’t have seven to 10 years,” Pezant says.

UAB Medicine's Kidney Transplant Clinic told him that he needed to find a living donor if possible.

“They told me early on that if these three things lined up – that if 1) I found a living donor, 2) the donor was a perfect match, and 3) if I was transplanted before I started dialysis, it would be as if I was never sick. I processed that as being impossible, so I started putting my affairs in order,” he says. “What seemed like an eternity, only three months later, all three of those things fell into place. It reaffirmed for me that nothing is impossible with God.”

As Pezant and his family searched for a potential donor, the first place they reached out to was their church. Leslie Naff, a fellow church member, says what started with a simple email turned into a grace-filled journey for both of them.

“I received an email through the Episcopal church community. It said that Shaun Pezant needed a kidney. I knew Shaun, but not really. I read it that day, and that night Shaun and I were sitting on opposite sides of the room at church. I can’t tell you why, other than the fact that it was God’s hand, I got up and went across the room to him. I said, ‘I hear you need a kidney.’ I think it took him by surprise because he is a private person, but he had the UAB donor card with him and handed it to me. I told him I would call them the next day,” Naff says.

‘I Wouldn’t Take No for an Answer’

Naff applied to become Pezant’s donor the next day. However, her application initially was turned down because she did not weigh enough.

“I really didn’t know what to say to that. I prayed about it, and the next day I woke up and thought that I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Naff says. “I pretty much begged the counselor to take my case back to the board. She said okay, and a week later I got a call back saying I could be tested in a few months. I was ecstatic for the opportunity, but I was shocked at the wait. I told her that we don’t have a few months. So she called me back and said I could be tested the next day. So I really think my tenacity, and maybe the color of my red hair, played a role in this process,” Naff says with a laugh.

Naff went through extensive counseling and testing to ensure she was a good match. The tests results shocked everyone involved. “They actually told me I was closer to Shaun than a blood relative,” Naff says.

A few months later, Pezant and Naff were admitted for their transplant surgeries. Pezant says he has never experienced the level of care he received from Michael Hanaway, MD, and his team at UAB’s Comprehensive Transplant Institute (CTI).

“The team of doctors led by Michael Hanaway was just phenomenal. They all had a gift of just being in the moment. They were all compassionate, honest, and extremely professional every step of the way. I felt like I was in just the right place every time I was at UAB,” Pezant says.

Naff says her care was equally exceptional. “From the moment the nurse took my blood to see if I was a match to the day of surgery, everyone was just so professional and caring. I felt like I was a part of the family,” she says.

Naff says she knew she had made the right decision to donate her kidney after she received a special text following her surgery.

“I was up all night long that first night and in a significant amount of pain, which we were expecting. My sister-in-law never left my side, and I remember that her phone buzzed. She looked down and she read it. It said, ‘Shaun’s kidney is functioning at 100%.’ That is a moment of joy that will never leave me,” Naff says.

Five-Year Anniversary

Pezant is doing well after his transplant five years ago, enjoying a level of health he had forgotten was possible.

“You never know how really sick you were until you feel better. The day after my transplant is really hard to describe. I was surrounded by family. I remember seeing Naff’s face for the first time. I had the rest of my life ahead of me when just months earlier I was getting my affairs in order,” he says. “The silver lining of all this has been to watch my son develop and blossom into the young man he is now. He’s now 19 and an amazing musician, and to think I may have missed this part of his development – I’m just eternally grateful.”

Pezant says he celebrates the anniversary of his transplant every year by going back to thank the staff at UAB Medicine who helped save his life.

“I’ve gone back to the transplant floor every year around the anniversary. I just go up and down the halls. We share stories, we hug. We really became like family through this process, and their care was just above and beyond. I don’t know if I can ever thank them in the way they deserve,” he says.

Pezant says he would encourage others on the kidney waiting list to share their story and never give up.

“I would encourage anyone facing a similar situation to just be open and have hope. Little did I know that when that first email went out to our community saying I needed a kidney, the floodgates would open. We’ve been told several times that we broke UAB records for the number of people trying to get in and be tested. That’s so humbling. I just wanted to suffer in silence, but it educates the public when you talk about it,” he says. “Nothing is impossible. Over the past five years, there have been so many advancements in transplantation. Now you no longer have to find a perfect match; UAB is genetically altering organs and doing other amazing things.”

A Special Bond

Naff says her life truly has been changed by becoming a living donor as well.

“I’ve said this to Shaun – it was truly a gift to me,” Naff says. “My son wrote something for his medical school entrance paper that proved that to me. He said seeing his mom after this procedure is the happiest he’s ever seen me. It really was. To give life, it breathed new life into me. It’s amazing how it all happened and that I was so lucky to be the one to give Shaun a kidney. It still amazes me.”

Both Pezant and Naff encourage others to consider becoming living donors.

“The sheer number of people in need is staggering. I’ve lost several friends over the last five years on the transplant list, and I just can’t stress strongly enough the importance of being an organ donor,” Pezant says.

“For me, donating a kidney to Shaun gave me someone I consider to be a family member,” Naff says. “We’ll have a relationship that’s unique and loving and filled with grace for the rest of our lives, which thanks to UAB Medicine will be a really long time.”

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.

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