By Miranda Bretthauer

My little brother, Jacob, is two years younger than me. While we are a typical brother/sister duo, we do have something that sets us apart from most siblings – I donated one of my kidneys to him in 2016!

Our story

Jacob was born in 1997, and even though he was born prematurely, they sent him home the day he was born.  After the first days at home, my mom felt something was off and she took him back to the hospital. It was there Jacob was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. My parents were stunned.

Within a short amount of time Jacob’s health declined rapidly. He suffered a stroke when he was just three months old. Following the stroke, his medical team informed us he would not be able to leave the hospital – Lomo Linda Hospital in CA – until a new heart was found. Our family was turned upside down by this news. We quickly came to the realization we had to rely on the kindness of a stranger to save my brother.

Thankfully, when he was four-months old, our family received the gift Jacob so desperately needed. A baby named Linda passed away from pneumonia and her family generously decided to donate her organs to help others. My brother received her heart, and while we’ve never spoken with the family, Jacob has always wanted to connect to say thank you.

In the years after his transplant, Jacob was healthy and living his life. However, his health started to change during his senior year in high school. His kidneys were failing. For the second time in his life, our family was told Jacob would need a transplant to survive.

Our transplant

I decided, as the big sister, to be tested to see if I could be his living donor. My parents were supportive of the idea and both Jacob and I were elated when we learned I was a match! A transplant date was set for July 22, 2016 at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Leading up to the transplant Jacob was tired and sleeping all the time. He just wanted to feel better. For me, the transplant couldn’t come soon enough. I just wanted my brother back in good health.

The day of the surgery, it felt like an out of body experience. I was nervous – I had never had surgery before. When I awoke from surgery, I remember being in pain, but it subsided soon enough. Jacob, on the other hand, was feeling excellent! His new kidney started working right away and he was soon lapping me in the hallways!

We are now eight months post-transplant and all is well. Doctors have been monitoring Jacob to make sure both his transplanted heart and kidney are in great shape. When he is completely healed and ready, Jacob hopes to go to a trade school or technical college to be a computer programmer. I am back in school and will soon receive my Associate’s Degree in special education.

In all I’ve learned through this process, I now know there is no real excuse to not be a donor. If you can give while you are living, I highly encourage it. If not, please consider registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor and give the gifts of life, sight and healing after you have died. It’ll be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made! My brother is living proof that donation, both living and deceased, matters.