A ‘match made in heaven’: Wife donates kidney to husband
By Julie Filby
Dana Trenovich donated a kidney to husband Matt last June. They are pictured with daughter Madeline, 9.
Feb. 14 is National Donor Day and St. Valentine’s Day, the patron of love and marriage.
When Dana and Matt Trenovich met in 1997, they never imagined what a perfect match they would be.
After marrying in 1998 and welcoming daughter Madeline in 2003, the family lived happily in Fort Myers, Fla., where they shared ups and downs, like every family. However, nothing could have prepared them for the news they received fall 2008.
Matt was an active, fit 30-something when he began having debilitating headaches. As a salesman, he traveled regularly for work, and assumed the migraines were caused by stress, or maybe he was just tired.
A doctor’s visit showed his blood pressure was through the roof, and an ensuing battery of tests revealed his diagnosis: Berger’s disease. Berger’s is an autoimmune disease that damages the kidneys. By the time he was diagnosed, he was in stage four renal failure.
“They basically wrote him off,” Dana, 42, told the Denver Catholic Register from her classroom at St. Thomas More School in Centennial, where she teaches fifth grade.
“(They said) there’s nothing you can do, there’s no treatment, there’s no cure; just ride it out.”
Shortly after when she was on a flight to Boston for another family emergency, the first in a chain of events—events where they saw the hand of God at work—occurred.
“For the first time in my life, I decided to be quiet and just pray,” explained Dana, a self-described Type A personality. “Matt was at the doctor getting a biopsy and I just wanted to pray for him.”
Shortly into the flight, the neighboring passenger disturbed her quiet time with small talk that led to a more in-depth conversation.
“It turned out she’d had kidney cancer and was a patient of the top kidney doctor at the Lahey Clinic in Boston,” Dana said. This exclusive specialist accepted new patients by referral only: Dana’s new-found friend provided that referral.
“She got us into the clinic and we got a second opinion,” an opinion that left them feeling more hopeful.
In January 2009, Matt’s job brought the family to Denver. Under the vigilant care of Dr. Richard Johnson, chief of the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at University of Colorado in Denver, Matt maintained kidney function that allowed him to stay off dialysis and continue to lead a relatively normal life.
Though he tired easily, “I didn’t feel like a sick person,” he said.
During this time, Matt, who had little faith formation growing up, discerned a call.
“Dana is a cradle Catholic and I had gone to church with her for years,” he said. “I was going through the motions as if I was Catholic and felt I was pseudo-Catholic. I had planned to convert and ‘spring it’ on Dana and Madeline.”
When he visited their parish office, St. Mary’s in Littleton, to “sign up,” he discovered the process was more involved than he anticipated.
“I didn’t know about the process of RCIA,” he said. “I just thought I’d come in and sign some paperwork.”
Matt began weekly RCIA classes September 2011.
“Going through RCIA couldn’t have come at a better time,” he shared. “At first I felt like I was doing it for Dana and Madeline, then I realized it was for me; I was called to do it.
“Having God in my life gave more meaning to what I was going through … it was amazing.”
In January 2012, his health took a turn for the worse when his kidney function declined dramatically. The decline required that he begin dialysis several times a week; or find a donor who could provide a kidney.
“I was ‘willing to give,’” Dana said, and she started an arduous four-month testing process. A living donor must share the recipient’s blood type, tissue type, and be in good health.
“Not being genetically related,” she said, “it wasn’t that likely I would be a match.”
As they went on with their lives—Madeline in second grade at St. Mary’s, Dana finishing a master’s degree in teaching at Denver’s Metro State University, and Matt working and attending RCIA—they wondered what the future would hold.
“Everything was coming to a head,” Matt said, as significant moments in his health and faith converged. “Conversion, Easter Vigil, preparing for what was still unknown … it was very emotional.”
Matt was welcomed into the Church during Easter Vigil at St. Mary’s April 7, the same season Madeline received her first Communion. A few weeks later the family was vacationing in Florida when they got the call: Dana was a match.
“We’re not a perfect match, but we’re a match,” she said. “We match enough that medication can compensate for it.
“It really is a ‘match made in heaven,’” she continued. “God knew before he sent each of us here that not only would we have this obstacle but that we were already a match.”
On June 12, 2012, they entered the hospital for surgery. It was one year to the day that they had had their marriage convalidated by Father Javier Nieva, D.C.J.M., parochial vicar at St. Mary’s.
“I’m never giving him anything ever again,” Dana quipped in giving her husband a kidney for an anniversary gift.
It was a gift his body accepted, and nine months post-transplant his health is good.
“I feel fantastic,” Matt said, now 44. “My numbers have stabilized and my medications are down. I was blessed with a good kidney from Dana.”
While difficult, Dana said, the experience changed her profoundly: for the better.
“I thought I was strong in my faith before, but this brought me to my knees,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to see that I’m not in charge.
“It’s in God’s hands, all of it.”
National Donor Day Feb. 14
People waiting for an organ: 117,029
How often a person is added to waiting list: Every 10 minutes
People who receive organ transplant each day: 79
People who die each day waiting for an organ: 18
Source: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
For More Information: Visit the American Transplant Foundation at www.americantransplantfoundation.org/