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Rutgers student donates kidney to save father's life

The first time Rebecca Mahan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, received surgery was in mid-August of 2015 when she donated her kidney to her father.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I was not scared, everyone around me was scared — my family, my mom. I don’t know why I wasn’t. It’s not like I think of myself as a brave person, but I did not feel scared for a second.”

After the procedure, Rebecca remained in Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital for two days, and her father, Mike Mahan, stayed there for three days. The pair then recovered at their home for two weeks.

“His kidney started working immediately,” she said.

Rebecca said her father has had kidney disease for many years now. While there are many types of kidney disease, he has IgA, or Berger's disease. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, IgA nephropathy is a kidney disease that occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) lodges in the kidneys.

IgA results in local inflammation that may hamper a kidneys' ability to filter waste, excess water and electrolytes from the bloodstream over time.

Kidney disease did not severely begin to effect her father until about two years ago. All the while, their family went on family trips and he was a high school soccer coach.

“Around finals last year, he got really sick,” Rebecca said.

When doctors began suggesting that it was in Mike’s best interest to start considering looking for a kidney and proceeding with a kidney transplant, his sister, Rebecca's aunt, stepped up as a donor. In mid-May of this year, she had her last pre-surgery test in which doctors discovered she was not fit to donate because she had kidney stones.

Then, without a second thought, Rebecca volunteered to donate her kidney.

“We went through testing, which took about a month and we found out I was a perfect match,” she said. “Aug. 18 was our date.”

Mike Mahan, Rebecca’s father, said he did not expect her to do this but he also was not shocked when she offered because she is a generous and giving person.

“Our relationship was very good before (the surgery),” he said. “It might be even stronger now as we have another connection.”

He said his life has been changed in ways that he could never have imagined.

“The best way to describe the instant difference in me is that within 24 hours I felt like a cloud was lifted off of me,” Mike said. “As soon as my body accepted the new kidney, it began to rid itself of all the built up toxins from non functioning kidneys. I had been heavily medicated for years and my blood pressure was always extremely high.”

Today, Mike takes almost no medicine for blood pressure and his blood pressure numbers are in the normal range, a number more than 120 over 80 and less than 140 over 90. 

Parri Mahan, Rebecca’s mother and Mike’s wife, said when Mike first got home after the surgery, he needed a lot of care. Getting up was a struggle for him because he had staples in his body for several weeks. Slowly, he was able get up more easily on his own.

She mostly helped take care of Mike after the transplant surgery, while Rebecca’s boyfriend of almost six years never left her side.

“From the drive up to the hospital very early on Tuesday mornings until he needed to go to work the following Monday ... He worked from the hospital on his laptop and then back at our house,” Parri said. “He is my hero, along with Rebecca.”

She said she thanks God every day for what Rebecca did for their family. Rebecca was unbelievably strong and determined to see the procedure through, Parri said. She was not surprised, only amazed.

Parri and Mike’s relationship with Rebecca was always great and has continued to grow stronger over the past few months, Parri said. They have spent a lot of time with Rebecca this past summer as they were preparing for the transplant. Then, she said, of course, a lot of time was spent recuperating together.

“It is amazing that a 20-year-(old) was as selfless and caring as she was with her gift to me,” Mike said. “I am a very lucky person.”

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