Howie Day explained his decision to donate his left kidney to a complete stranger rather succinctly — it’s the right thing to do.
On Wednesday, the 48-year-old Maryville man will have the surgery at the University of Tennessee Medical Center to give his kidney’s recipient, 71-year-old Thom Hobbs, a better quality of life and in all likelihood more years.
Hobbs, who lives in Louisville, was put on dialysis more than three years ago, shortly after marrying wife, Debbie. He had known for years that he had kidney disease, but finding a new doctor meant also taking a new approach. He began going to dialysis three times a week.
Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Hobbs went to a local dialysis clinic to have his blood filtered — an hours-long process. Debbie’s been his teammate all along, scheduling her day around being able to drive him.
That ends Wednesday.
Debbie will never forget when Day contacted them on Facebook. It was Feb. 5, 2019. The couple were just relaxing on the couch, discussing their day.
“Good evening, I’m sorry to bother you but I was wondering if your husband still needs a kidney transplant?” the message read.
“Yes, he does,” Debbie answered.
After determining that Thom and Day both had the same blood type — a must for donation — Day replied back, “I may be able to help.”
The three sat down last Friday afternoon to talk about how they got here and the possibilities that have now opened up because one of them chose to reach out to a cry for help.
Debbie and Thom didn’t get their hopes up at first. The two had placed a billboard in Lenior City, asking for possible donors to call and get tested. Thom said there were 18 initial responses. There were eight who went past the initial call to UT. Out of those, one was selected to move forward; he never showed up for the required hospital transplant board meeting.
So this dialysis patient waited to see what would happen next. Meanwhile, Day called UT the very next day to get the ball rolling. Thom admitted he figured this was just another shyster from a faraway land promising something in exchange for a plane ticket to America.
What Thom didn’t know was this story started much further back than just a message on Facebook. Day had been planning to give one of his kidneys to a friend of his wife in Cleveland, Ohio. But the recipient ended up having medical issues before the surgery and became ineligible.
“I told my wife after that happened that I was going to find someone to donate to,” he said. “I am going to find somebody local.”
So lying in bed on Feb. 9, he did an internet search for “Blount County needs kidney.” Up popped a couple of stories that had appeared in The Daily Times. One was about the billboard; the other was the story of how Debbie and Thom met. They could never decide on when and where to get married, so Thom surprised her with a ceremony at work one weekday. In that story, which ran back in 2015, they also talked about Thom’s need for a kidney.
No reason to fraternize
Day admitted he never intended on becoming great friends with whoever turned out to be the kidney recipient. In fact, it was his plan to never meet. That was in case the donor didn’t take good care of his kidney. He didn’t want to know.
As it turns out, Howie and his wife, Dee, and Thom and Debbie have had dinners together and talk frequently. Day and Thom Hobbs want their story out there because they know there are people who don’t know you can be a live donor. There are so many people in Blount County on dialysis, waiting for a selfless gift of life, they said.
Hobbs has been a patient at Dialysis Clinic Inc. in Maryville, where there currently are 56 patients who receive the life-saving procedure. Maryville’s other dialysis clinic is Davita.
In most cases, the live donor turns out to be someone the recipient knows, Hobbs pointed out. A relative who is a match, or a co-worker or fellow church-goer, not a complete stranger.
“He had nothing in me,” Hobbs said of Day. “He is not a relative and I am not a co-worker. We didn’t meet and then he felt sorry for me. He was a complete stranger.”
At 48, Day is in great physical shape. He doesn’t drink or smoke and said he has never taken prescriptions, just over-the-counter stuff. He eats healthy and drinks 128 ounces of water daily.
“He has a real good kidney,” Hobbs said. “I want it.”
A thorough going over
Over the past few months, Day has undergone test after test. He’s had EKGs, urine tests, blood tests, a psych evaluation, chest X-rays and so many interviews he’s lost count. At each point along the way, medical personnel have given him the option of bowing out.
“I have never had a second thought about this,” Day said. “It’s getting real now that the day is here.”
While relatives are generally the first to be tested, Thom said he knew that wouldn’t be an option for him. His family has a history of dying young. His dad was only 59 and his mom 62.
“DNA works against you when your relatives are as screwed up as you are,” Hobbs said.
Day will be in the hospital two to three days if Wednesday’s procedure is done laparoscopically. If that isn’t possible, he is looking at a longer stay. Hobbs will be in for a longer period of time and will have to come back to the hospital twice a week as his medicine gets regulated. He will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life.
For Day, after getting over the surgery and accompanying pain, he will go back to his job as parts manager for Lexus of Knoxville, minus one kidney but no worse for wear. Doctors determined his right kidney is strongest, so he keeps it.
Hobbs then will be the owner of three kidneys — his two that don’t work and Day’s left one that does. It is less invasive to leave the diseased kidneys in place than remove them, Hobbs said.
In addition to being extra careful not to contract illnesses while in this compromised state, Hobbs also will have to get used to a kidney that has processed more than 100 ounces of water per day. Before, Hobbs said his liquid intake had been about 36 ounces per day. Stretching his bladder will be a must, the donor recipient said.
They are ‘blood brothers’
These two kid around a lot, calling each other a brother from a different mother, but Hobbs said blood brothers probably more accurately describes their relationship now that an organ donation is reality. They do have the same hair color, Day pointed out: Both are bald.
There are so many things to be thankful for, Debbie Hobbs said. When they first married, she worked at a local branch bank that has closed. She was out of a job for nine months but works for Arrow Exterminators. She said her new company has been understanding as she has taken her husband to appointments, etc.
The one thing they haven’t done is go on any overnight trips because of Thom Hobbs’ dependance on dialysis. After weeks of monitoring his condition, he will be able to venture out once again.
He said he misses things like hiking and going to Dollywood. Before his surgery, walking left him short of breath.
There were so many factors that fell into place, Thom and Debbie explained. From them meeting and marrying, to the stories that featured them in the newspaper to Day doing his search for a person needing a kidney and then finding out they are a match.
“I never thought I would make it to 60,” Thom said. “Now I may see 80. Howie is giving me a while new life. I am curious to see what my body is capable of now.”