April 14, 2000

Organ donation further strengthens twins’ bond

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Audrey Dowdy donated a kidney to her twin brother Aubrey Curlee. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Organ donation further strengthens twins' bond

Organ donation was not something that Aubrey Curlee thought much about until last spring.

A generally healthy 37-year-old, Curlee was having severe headaches and visited his physician for a check-up. Routine blood work zeroed in on a serious problem.

His kidney function was deteriorating. Further tests revealed a terminal kidney disease. His only hope was a transplant.

"One day I was walking around healthy and then a blood test tells me I am terminal," Curlee recalls. "What do you do? My kidneys were functioning at 40 percent. I never wanted to ask anyone for help. My family just offered."

Doctors say the illness that affected Curlee is an immune complex disease called IGA nephropathy/FSGS. This is an abnormal production of IGA antibodies and immune IGA complexes. These complexes are deposited in the glomeruli, which results in the loss of the kidney's ability to clean the body of toxins.

"It is one of a host of diseases that leads to the need for transplantation; but it is not the most common," said Dr. Robert E. Richie, professor of Surgery and surgical director of the Kidney Transplant Program at Vanderbilt.

"The long-term survivorship is 15-20 years," he said. "His outcomes are pretty good."

Luckily for Curlee, he had what most folks don't — a twin. Without his sister, doctors said Curlee's wait could have lasted more than four years.

"I've been doing transplants here for 29 years," Richie said. "And this is only the second time I've had twins. It is not very common."

Curlee's kidneys totally shut down in February. He was on dialysis for two weeks before his transplant on March 9.

His sister, Audrey Dowdy, said she couldn't stand by and not help. Her desire to save her brother had positive outcomes all around.

Originally, Dowdy was not considered a suitable candidate because she was taking high blood pressure medications. The twins' other siblings were also on medications that prohibited organ donation.

But Dowdy was persistent. She had only recently been placed on medications to lower her hypertension and asked if she could try diet and exercise therapy instead.

"I knew that I would be my brother's best chance at a match," Dowdy said. "I had to try. When I noticed that my new regime was regulating my blood pressure, I was happy for him and for me."

For months doctors watched both twins. Curlee was holding on, while Dowdy was preparing herself to be as fit as possible. Finally the day came that she was given the OK.

"I knew if I didn't take the initiative, he would not have asked," Dowdy said of offering to donate her kidney. "I could not have lived a perfect life knowing I could help him and did not. I'm just glad it's all over. I have no regrets."

Both Curlee and Dowdy say signing donor cards never really crossed their minds, until now. It's a situation that most don't think will affect their families.

Curlee agrees that getting communication going is the first step.

"It's not typical conversation, but there are thousands of people needing help," he said. "For people considering donating, turn the situation around: What if you were the one in need? What then?

"If it's not something you can do now, at least consider it when you pass away. There is no sense in two people dying."