By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
This Advent season Austin Bryan has a renewed sense of gratitude. On Oct. 6, Bryan received the gift of life — a new kidney.
Last year, Bryan, 29, was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and was in desperate need of a kidney. His father, Rick Bryan, a member of St. James Church, spoke to The Record last October detailing his son’s condition.
In a story that appeared in The Record on Oct. 24, 2013, Rick Bryan said he drew strength throughout his son’s ordeal by attending weekday Mass at the Highlands parish.
Prior to his diagnosis, Austin Bryan was a college student and an avid outdoors man. In fact, when he found out he had kidney failure, he was in the final stages of preparations to hike the Appalachian Trail. All his plans for the future were put on hold indefinitely, he said.
After potential donors — 14 in all — were eliminated one by one, Bryan said he began to give up hope that he would ever receive a kidney. Then earlier this year, a childhood friend of Bryan’s sister, Jenessa, saw a Facebook post detailing Bryan’s need for a kidney.
“I remembered her from when we were kids,” he said in reference to his sister’s friend. “She went on family vacations with us to Florida.”
The friend, Olivia Byrne, had lost contact with the Bryan family years earlier when she moved away from Louisville. Bryan said
Byrne told him that she had been reading her Bible earlier on the day she saw the Facebook post. “She pieced the two together and said she felt a deep urge to act on it,” Bryan explained.
Bryan said even after the initial contact by Byrne, he tried to not get his hopes up.
After Byrne began passing the tests to clear her for organ donation, Bryan said he then became hopeful. Yet he still remained cautious, too, he said.
Bryan and Byrne were able to meet while they were both taking part in pre-operation preparations at the University of Cincinnati Hospital.
“It was really amazing to see her again that day. I couldn’t imagine volunteering to do this,” Bryan said. “She was very similar to how I remembered her as a kid.”
Byrne, who is five years older than Bryan, has two children and lives in Lexington, Ky.
The transplant was scheduled for Oct. 6 of this year, but Bryan said he still wouldn’t allow himself to believe he was going to receive a new kidney.
“I was still skeptical; I just didn’t think it was going to work. It just seemed to good to be true,” he said.
“But, at the same time, I was really excited too. I thought it’s a chance to get everything back. I was doing dialysis everyday and I just couldn’t keep on doing it,” Bryan explained.
The surgery was a breeze for both the donor and the recipient, Bryan said. When Bryan woke up from surgery, he said he immediately felt the effects of the new kidney.
“The only way I can describe it is that it felt like when you haven’t brushed your teeth in a couple of days — having that clean feeling. Except for me it had been two years” since his kidneys had been able to properly cleanse his blood, Bryan said.
It’s now been eight weeks since the surgery and both Bryan and Byrne are doing great, Bryan said. Byrne is back at work and Bryan said he is beginning to live his life again.
Prior to the transplant, Bryan said he expected he have about eight years to live. He began to read obituaries and said he wondered what his would say. Now he can think beyond those few years and look forward to decades of life.
He will always need to take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent his body from rejecting the new kidney, but his doctors say he will be able to lead a fairly normal life.
Now that he has a new lease on life, Bryan is back in college classes and would like to pursue a degree in the medical field where he can help others, he said. He is still trying to figure out what field that will be since he must guard against infection.
Bryan is also involved in the Mulligan Kidney Group, an advocacy group that aims to educate people about kidney disease and the process of transplants.
“I’d like to just get across the message of how easy the process is (donating an organ) and how big the impact is,” he said.
Bryan also wants to make sure individuals, especially younger people, sign the organ donation line on the back of their driver’s licenses.
Bryan and Byrne are now friends and regularly talk on the phone. He said the two have definitely created a connection and that he feels a “constant bond.”
“This was more than someone saving someone from traffic. This was a situation where she had every chance and the right to get out,” Bryan said. “I still can’t understand it. She answered a call no one was expecting her to answer and didn’t want anything in return.”
Bryan’s father said he believes the way in which his son received a kidney was not something that happened by chance.
“Some say it was a coincidence, but I think it was divine intervention,” Rick Bryan said.