Alhaji "Al” Dumbuya had just celebrated the 10 year anniversary of his transplanted kidney when it started to fail.
Dumbuya, from Newport, Ky., was 25 when he received the organ, after waiting on the transplant list after high blood pressure caused his original kidney failure. Despite the strain of going back on dialysis three times a week, Dumbuya says he tried to keep on his "game face,” both for himself and his family.
He’s the oldest of four children from a close-knit but geographically spread out family. His mother lives in Fairfield, but his father is working in Sierra Leone and his three younger sisters are scattered to Detroit, Chicago and Dallas. Despite the distance, they all keep in touch frequently.
When he went back on dialysis, Dumbuya shifted to a less demanding role at work, becoming an assistant manager at Best Buy, where his manager would allow him to schedule his shifts, totaling 40-45 hours a week, around his dialysis treatments.
As the stress of the treatments, and a hip replacement he underwent in the spring of 2011, wore on, his middle sister Hadiatu moved back home to help take care of him. Along with the rest of their family, Hadiatu urged Al to think about living donation.
He hadn’t wanted any of them to be tested to see if they were a match to donate a kidney, but she pressed on.
"I thought it be would be a burden,” he says. "It’s a big thing to ask of anyone, to donate a vital organ. I was willing to just sit on the list and wait for a cadaver, but Hadiatu’s pretty persistent. The good thing is about living donation is that the donor has to take the lead in the process and the recipient can’t do anything—the donor has to call, they have to go through tests. It takes the pressure off the person that’s receiving.”
Hadiatu, 30, says she never hesitated to pursue testing. Once Al agreed, she traveled to UC’s transplant clinic right away to begin the process. After the first round of testing, she says she emailed or called the transplant coordinators nearly every day to find out the results.
When she finally learned that she was a match, she wasn’t prepared for the news.
"I was in the middle of ordering food at Subway and I just started bawling my eyes out,” she remembers. "I stayed there for an hour crying. I’m pretty spiritual and I had been praying for our family to not have to deal with this anymore. Knowing that Al wouldn’t have to wait forever for a kidney, that we could do it right away—they were tears of joy and relief.”
Though he spent the next few months maintaining his game face, every once in a while Al allowed himself some relief, too, to think about what life off dialysis would be like.
"I was skeptical,” he says. "I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. But four hours (of dialysis) gives you a lot of time to think about things.”
Hadiatu and Al had their surgeries Thursday, Oct. 25 at UC Health University Hospital. UC Health transplant surgeons and assistant professors of surgery Flavio Paterno, MD, and Madison Cuffy, MD, performed the transplant.
"Al’s transplant went very well. He had an excellent recovery after surgery and went home after just a few days," says Paterno. "The living-donor transplant has been the best opportunity for Al. It not only allowed him to avoid the long times of the waiting list for a cadaveric transplant, but it provides him with the highest chances of a long-term functioning kidney for up to 20 years. This is very important considering his young age. The Dumbuyas are very nice people. It's been a pleasure for our team to take care of them."
A month into recovery, the Dumbuya family has started celebrating the holidays and is planning a family trip for 2013—something they couldn’t do before Al’s surgery.
Hadiatu is spending her recovery in Newport with her brother, spending lots of time making kidney-shaped thank you cards from poster board. She found she had a lot of people to thank. To date, she’s made over 70 cards.
"Although I donated, my support system stems from my siblings and parents,” she says. "My mom has taken care of us through our recovery, along with my brother’s girlfriend, and my dad came back from Sierra Leone for the surgery. Our family and friends throughout the US and worldwide have been sending us gifts, well wishes and prayers that have enabled us to continue on a healthy and speedy recovery. We are truly grateful for the constant support.”
Al says the difference in his health after transplant is "night and day.” But he said his relationship with his little sister hasn’t changed that much, except that he has a little more patience with her now.
"Honestly, I owe her my life,” he says. "She’s a bundle of energy, she bounces off the walls. But she’s an amazing person, as much as she might frustrate me at times, the one thing she has is a huge heart and you just can’t replace that.”