How Far Would You Go to Save a Loved One?

Angela Balcita who is an author of “Moonface: A True Romance,” discusses about how her boyfriend (now husband) gave her a kidney — and the impact it had on their relationship.

Q: Tell me about your health decline at 18; what condition were you in?

A: I was diagnosed with kidney disease when I was 17, a few months after I started my freshman year of college. At the time, I felt fine. The only symptom I had were pesky, inexplicable swollen ankles. My father, who is a physician, was concerned about them and sent me to a specialist. The specialist diagnosed me with glomeruloneprhitis, a type of kidney disease.

Though impaired, my kidney was still functioning, so I was put on medication and went back to school. But as the year progressed, my kidney function became worse. I was feeling wiped-out and couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I had to temporarily drop out of school to undergo dialysis treatments, which were even more exhausting. After about a month, my older brother offered to donate his kidney to me. So, about nine months after my initial diagnosis, I received my first kidney transplant.

Q: Did your boyfriend — now husband — immediately offer you a kidney?

A: The kidney transplant I received from my brother was successful and my renewed health opened up a world of possibility for me. I was able to go back to school, to exercise, to travel, to relocate and to have a relationship with Chris — my boyfriend.

Chris and I had been dating for almost six years when my body began to reject my brother’s kidney. Once again, my kidney function began to decline and I was put back on dialysis. Chris tells me he couldn’t sit back and watch me go through treatment without feeling compelled to do something. He made a case for why he should be the one to give me his kidney: He was willing, he was young and healthy and he wanted to see me healthy. After getting his blood and tissue tested and finding out he was a match, we agreed to move forward with a donation.

Q: Did you have any reluctance about taking a kidney from him?

A: At first, yes. Having seen my brother go through major surgery with a long recovery, which is often more extensive for the donor than the recipient, I thought twice about putting Chris through the same thing. But Chris was so sure he wanted to do it and that it would be successful — he made it difficult for me to say no. I imagined the transplant as something to unite us both spiritually and emotionally — that we were transcending the idea of being just boyfriend-girlfriend.

Q: What impact did this experience have on your relationship?

A: Well, first of all, the transplant united us in a way no other thing could. We’ll always have this connection, no matter what happens in our lives or to our health or to the kidney. But beyond that, as any couple who goes through tragedy and trauma knows, these moments test the strength of your relationship and force you to figure out how you’re going to let this problem affect your day-to-day choices. I relied on Chris to get my health back on track, but we relied on each other for hope and humour.

Q: Did going through this teach you anything new about love?

A: I got a glimpse of how love and sacrifice work. I was able to understand sacrifice from the perspective of the recipient and, in a different sense, from the perspective of someone who is giving of their own body to someone else. It’s astounding to see the things you would do for the people you love or the lengths you would go to ensure they’re happy.