Colin Newton is willing to go through some pain for his friend Caleb Johnson.
In fact, Newton is giving up a kidney for Johnson during Indiana’s first “Twittercast” of a live transplant surgery on Wednesday.
Both men and their families gathered Monday for a news conference at Indiana University Health Hospital in Indianapolis where they and urological surgeon Dr. Chandru Sundaram said they hope to inform the public about how being a living donor can save a life.
“The real star in this room is Colin,” Sundaram said of the former Terre Haute man who is donating one of his kidneys.
Colin and Caleb have a pretty solid relationship, the two 30-something men agree. They were once co-workers, and found that they share the common interests of hunting and fishing. Colin is a 1997 graduate of Terre Haute South, Caleb a 2000 graduate of Sullivan High School.
When Caleb developed kidney failure from a fast-acting form of Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, he knew he would one day need a kidney transplant. FSGS is a condition in which millions of tiny filters in the kidney become badly scarred and damaged so they no longer filter blood properly.
He was diagnosed in April 2011, then went on dialysis Dec. 15, 2011. While the six-day-a-week dialysis eventually allowed Caleb to regain some of his mobility, he knew he needed a more permanent fix. Unfortunately, the waiting list can be years long for a donor kidney.
Caleb has been off work since November, when he had to leave his job as a manager at a coal gasification plant because of his disease.
It was over dinner one evening with his friend Colin and Colin’s wife, Megan, that Caleb said he needed a kidney transplant, and that a live donor would speed up the process. It was a hard topic to bring up, Caleb said — asking a friend if he would donate a kidney. It turned out that Colin was the same blood type, and he offered to be screened to see if he was a good match.
Colin said he learned about the risks associated with a transplant, and he talked to family members about it, especially his wife of three years, and his parents, Joe and Jeani Newton of Terre Haute. He said he realized that everyone in his family had been blessed with good health, so he felt he could share a kidney with his friend.
“I know that karma comes back around,” he said. “If it comes up that I need help some day, I know someone will help me.”
Jeani Newton said she and her husband Joe support their son’s decision 100 percent.
“I’m scared, because I’m a mom,” Jeani said, adding that Caleb’s mother is just as concerned about the health of the two young men. And Jeani agrees with Sundaram that Caleb is the “star” of the transplant.
“He has just surpassed everything we could want for him, as a man, and as a human being,” Jeani said of her son’s decision to donate a kidney to his friend. “It gives me goosebumps. It makes me so proud. It couldn’t happen to two nicer young men.”
Tom and Jackie Johnson joined their son at the news conference, and Caleb’s girlfriend, Jodeana Pirtle, was also there for support.
They were comforted by the assurances of Sundaram, who will be performing Colin’s surgery. Caleb’s surgery will be conducted by Dr. William Goggins. The transplant nephrologist is Dr. Tim Taber.
The surgeries will be going on at the same time, with Colin’s starting first, as undertakes the complicated procedure of carefully removing the healthy kidney. The kidney will be immediately taken to an operating room next door where Caleb’s body will be ready to receive it.
The recovery will be easier for recipient Caleb than for donor Colin, Sundaram said.
“The only thing I can do is hurt him,” Sundaram said of the donor. “It’s for a good cause, but the best I can do is to limit that pain.”
Sundaram said he began doing transplant surgeries 10 years ago, and he has had a live telecast to an audience in the past. But the Twitterfeed will be a different medium that can hopefully inform a new audience about the benefits of being a live donor.
Those on Twitter can follow the Twittercast by following the hashtag #calebskidney, named after the transplant recipient, starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Both surgeries are expected to wrap up no later than 1 p.m.
“I think there is a huge pool of people who are wanting a kidney, and who are interested in this,” Sundaram said of the Twitter experience. “Any amount of education will help. The more people who are exposed to this, it will help.”
He also noted that there is a big difference between signing up to be an organ donor on a driver’s license (which is great) and making a live donation.
The public will learn about that by following the Twitterfeed.
While he personally will not be Tweeting — that is the job of hospital public relations coordinators Gene Ford and Kristofer Karol — Sundaram said Twitter will not be a distraction during the surgery.
“If I couldn’t take care of Twitter with all that’s going on [in surgery], I shouldn’t be doing this,” he said, laughing.
Colin’s surgery will be laprascopic, with tiny incisions made in the patient’s torso to insert the video camera and instruments that will be used to disconnect blood vessels and tissues from the healthy kidney. The doctor and surgery team will view the surgery on a monitor.
“It’s like a video game,” Sundaram said, “but I have to win every time!”
The outcome of Wednesday’s transplant should make winners of both Caleb and Colin.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.
Colin Newton is willing to go through some pain for his friend Caleb Johnson.
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