A 20-year-old college student who got a kidney donated by his identical twin brother is reaping a rare benefit -- the ability to stop taking immunosuppressant drugs that most organ recipients take for the rest of their lives.
Brian Connor had been dealing with kidney disease and steadily declining kidney function since birth. Two years ago, his kidneys were so bad that he was put on dialysis three times a week for three to four hours at a time, he said. To save his life, his doctors said he'd need a transplant.
Fortunately, Connor was able to turn to his twin brother, Andrew, for help. The pair are identical twins, but issues in the development in utero left Brian with impaired kidneys and "a little bit smaller" than his brother, Brian said.
Brian said that he and his brother had grown up close, and that he always knew he could rely on Andrew in a tough squeeze.
"The funny thing is we didn’t talk about it," Brian said of the possibility of getting a kidney from his brother. "He always knew in the back of his head, the way I always knew in the back of my head" that he would need a transplant.
Brian said he remembered the night before the surgery in January 2015, he and his brother avoided the topic.
"I remember right before the operation, I said, 'Hey man, are you ready for this?" Brian recalled. "The whole thing was kind of weird. It was very surreal."
Waking up after the hours-long surgery, Brian said he was relieved to find out the surgery at Children’s Mercy Hospital had gone well for both him and his twin brother. When they saw each other again, Brian said they were back to joking like they always had.
"I remember Andrew walking through the door like, 'Hey, what’s up? Thanks for the kidney, man,'" Brian recalled.
As Brian recovered from the surgery and got used to being off dialysis, his doctors said they had good news about the transplant. Because Brian and Andrew were identical twins, there was a good chance Brian could avoid the immunosuppressant drugs that most organ recipients take every day for the rest of their lives. In most transplants, the body's immune system recognizes the new organ as a foreign object and attacks it, but Brian's body viewed his brother's kidney as his own.
"Slowly, they weaned me off," about five or six months ago, said Brian, who recently was able to stop taking the drugs entirely. "Taking those medications is kind of a burden for anyone who had an organ transplant."
Brian said his life is largely back to normal as he finishes his junior year at the University of Missouri. He said his brother does like to bring up the kidney donation every once in a while.
"I feel like I’m forever in his debt," Brian said. "He kind of makes jokes about it, like, 'Can you pay for my food? Remember that time I gave you a kidney?'"
"He loves playing that card," Brian said.