February 14, 2013

Woman gives ultimate Valentine’s gift to her husband

Kim Duncan donated a kidney to her husband, Thomas, on Valentine’s Day last week. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

For the nearly 25 years Thomas Duncan has been married, he was crowned the king of Valentine’s Day gift giving.

Not this year however, says his wife, Kim, who now carries the unofficial title after donating a kidney to her husband on Feb. 14.

“We have definitely been joking about this,” chuckled Thomas Duncan before the surgery. “All she has done is made it real hard for me to come up with a gift. I can’t top this one, that’s for sure. There is nothing better than life.”

Thomas Duncan should know. This will be his third kidney transplant. The first in 2001 was from a cadaver donor and the second followed in 2003 during what was Tennessee’s first paired kidney exchange, or double swap transplant, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Duncans said they prayed intently about this third transplant and believe that if it is God’s will, then it is meant to be.

“At first, I felt like Kim donating to me was a double-edged sword; it was bittersweet,” said Duncan.

“On the one side, I was thankful that I had a donor, but then knowing it was my wife and that I was putting her at risk was a really scary thing for me.

The Jackson, Tenn., couple was at Vanderbilt a few weeks ago prepared for the surgery, but in the final moments the procedure was postponed.

“As luck would have it, as we were leaving the hotel that morning to come to Vanderbilt,” Thomas Duncan said. “I twisted my ankle as I was getting into the truck. I couldn’t walk on it and you have to be mobile after transplant.”

“Now, I am good to go,” smiled Duncan, who was diagnosed with the kidney disorder mesangioproliferative glomerulonephritis at age 34, which eventually leads to kidney failure.

This time when his kidney began to fail, Kim Duncan was tested and discovered she was a match for her husband.

“I don’t need this kidney,” said Kim. “He does and it will give us more years and more time together. It is hard to imagine what you are giving (transplant recipients) – it costs us nothing and it gives (recipients) so much.”

The couple was discharged on Feb. 17 and are at home and doing well.

Their surgeries were performed by Douglas Hale, M.D., associate professor of Surgery, and David Shaffer, M.D., professor of Surgery.