Giving & Receiving Life with UAB Kidney Chain: A Madison Family’s Story

One Madison couple recently learned a whole new meaning of the concept “sacrificial love”. 

When Tyson Bell learned last year that he would need to find a living kidney donor, he and his wife Susannah sat down to have some serious conversations.

Bell, a Air Force veteran and father of two young boys, was diagnosed years ago with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). PKD is an inherited disease that causes cysts to develop and enlarge, deteriorating the function of one’s kidneys. Bell was told early on that he would need a kidney transplant and that the waitlist for a deceased donor would likely be eight years. 

A living donor would be his healthiest, fastest option, but his wife wasn’t a match.

The Bell family was then informed about a new option: If Susannah (or anyone!) was willing to donate a kidney to a stranger whom she matched with, then The University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital would find a stranger who matched with Tyson. This program is known as the UAB Kidney Chain, where “high-tech medicine and human kindness combine”. According to UAB Medicine, this is the longest chain program in the nation.

After navigating an extensive Living Kidney Donor Screening process to make sure that Susannah was a good candidate for the transplant, it was solidified in August 2019 that they would move forward with this plan.

April 2020 | the night before both Susannah and Tyson went in for surgery

“UAB took care of the entire thing. We were all matched by March and then underwent surgery at the end of April,” shared Tyson. 

The Bells shared that everything was completely anonymous and that all four surgeries took place at UAB during the same morning “so that no one could back out last minute.”

“I didn’t know who I was donating to,” said Susannah. “And he had no idea who’s kidney he was receiving.”

Two days after the surgeries, all four patients consented to meet for the first time. 

This program is known as the UAB Kidney Chain, where "high-tech medicine and human kindness combine". According to UAB Medicine, this is the longest...

Susannah shared that the person who donated to Tyson did so altruistically. 

“She didn’t have a dog in the fight. She did this out of the goodness of her heart.”

Tyson and Susannah learned that his donor is a biology professor and had always been fascinated by kidneys and transplants. Her students were the ones who put her up to donate since they knew how interested she was in the topic. The Bells also learned that Tyson’s donor is a foster parent and very charitable in general. 

[Author note: WOW. If anyone has ever sounded like a rockstar, it’s this woman…]

With the help of extended family, Susannah and Tyson were able to successfully navigate the surgeries and weeks-long recovery period while their children enjoyed extra time both away and at home with relatives. 

Two months later, both Susannah and Tyson are feeling healthy and doing well. Tyson says that receiving a live donation allowed his body to accept the new organ faster and begin producing almost immediately.

 

This program is known as the UAB Kidney Chain, where "high-tech medicine and human kindness combine". According to UAB Medicine, this is the longest...

May 2020 | home together as a family with sons Valen (9) and Braxton (4) for the first time in three weeks

As a donor, Susannah has been assured that she will be cared for in case she experiences any trouble in the future with her remaining kidney.

“If something happens to her kidney in the future, she will immediately shoot to the top of the recipient list.”

When asked what his wife’s gift to him meant, Tyson paused for a moment, clearly gathering his thoughts of what something of this magnitude meant to him. 

“You know that people love you and they say they love you,” shared Tyson. “But I think they are a few times in a marriage where you can see that, and this is one of those times. You don’t do this necessarily because you want to.”

UAB Kidney Chain

Click here to learn more about the UAB Kidney Chain program, including how to donate a kidney, get on the list to receive a kidney, or give a financial gift. There are more than 2,200 people in Alabama waiting for a kidney, and so far more than 114 people have donated via this lifesaving program. 

More from Madison

JustServe: The Volunteer Resource Impacting our Community in Big Ways

All About MADyardArt: Front Yard Signs for Your Next Celebration

Superhero Day Boosts Morale at Local Nursing Home