Teenager gives father gift of life for Christmas
By Maj. Cathleen Snow, 920th Rescue Wing
/ Published December 15, 2016
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Christmas came early for one Palm Bay, Florida military family. The family patriarch had been facing the harsh reality that he may not make it to Christmas Day due to a chronic medical condition that was worsening.
His kidneys were functioning at only 12 percent and his hope of finding a viable donor in time was grim. But fate decided he would get the perfect gift this year - life. His 19-year-old daughter, the giver; her gift – a kidney.
In fall 2014, recently retired Air Force Master Sgt. Derrell White faced a harsh reality: his kidneys were slowly failing, and his survival depended on a kidney transplant.
While he'd known since 1986 that he had IgA Nephropathy, a chronic kidney condition, he hadn't felt the effects for nearly three decades. While he was taking all the necessary precautions to manage his overall health, his kidneys were only operating at 18 percent.
The first person to volunteer as a kidney donor was his wife, Master Sgt. Heidi White, 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. She was a match, which they thought would solve their problems, but due to kidney stones in both kidneys,
Heidi was eliminated from being a donor. They were devastated. The process of finding a donor has been an emotional rollercoaster for their family. Family members and a good friend tried to be donors, but all were ruled out. Disappointed yet hopeful, Derrell signed up for the national kidney donation registry in June 2015. It could be years -- or too late -- by the time he would be contacted for a transplant.
One night in July 2015, Derrell received a call from Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami that they had a kidney from a cadaver, and they would be able to perform the transplant at 5:30 a.m. if he could get to the hospital in time.
He and Heidi rushed to the hospital three hours away in time. "They were rolling me down the hall for surgery, then they said ‘time out,’ Derrell recalled. “The kidney had been out of the body too long.”
Again, Derrell and Heidi had gotten their hopes up only to have them abruptly dashed. They drove back home feeling helpless. In November Derrell’s kidney function degraded to 12 percent.
His 19-years-old daughter, Elissa, couldn’t bear to watch as her father’s health decline so she decided to offer him her own kidney, again. She’d made the offer previously when she was 18, but her parents declined. With reluctance, this time the Whites agreed to her offer.
She learned she was a match and the surgery was set for Dec.7 at Florida Hospital in Orlando, three weeks later.
Elissa and Derrell are recovering from surgery and doing well. “While everything went better than we anticipated, we are cautiously optimistic,” said Heidi White. She did say both dad and daughter are doing exceptionally well and were both sent home after four days in the hospital.
The family agreed the whole process has been challenging both emotionally and physically, but say family, friends and unit members were always there offering support in many different forms. They couldn’t have done it without all the outpouring of support.