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posted: 9/30/2017 7:00 AM

Unexpected kidney donor from Indiana becomes patient's hero

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Kevin Roach and his family met this past Christmastime to celebrate the holidays.

Everyone sat around, bellies full, comparing gifts. It would've been a run-of-the-mill party for Roach, except during the celebration he noticed something "off" about his cousin's husband, Jared Foerster.

That night he learned the devastating news that Foerster was in kidney failure.

Roach left the party later that night talking with his father about how he hoped someone would step up and help Foerster.

That someone - after months of complications and tests - ended up being Roach.

"If someone had told me that night that Kevin was going to donate me his kidney, I'd have been extremely surprised," the 41-year-old Foerster said. "We'd only seen each other a handful of times."

Life changes

The idea of donating his kidney had been on Roach's mind for two months leading up to the first unsuccessful transplant but he kept thinking someone else would help.

But the thought of the life-changing impact his sacrifice could make was so strong that Roach started changing his life in hopes of becoming a better candidate in case someone else didn't step up.

He gave up nicotine. He bought a gym membership in hopes that seeing money taken out of his bank account each month would motivate him to go more regularly.

Roach made those changes quietly, the thought of donation still there but on the backburner.

All that changed though with a phone conversation in May.

A match

Roach overheard his cousin -- Foerster's wife -- Melanie, talking to her sister soon after his first transplant had failed. Jared's kidney was infected and grew nearly to the size of a human lung. It was barely functioning at one percent, meaning Foerster would have to be on dialysis at a minimum of 12 hours per week if he didn't find a donor match.

Once Roach heard the news, he contacted Melanie and expressed interest in being tested to become a possible donor.

"What's the worst they can say, 'No?' Roach said.

The 33-year-old Mount Vernon, Indiana, native is active in the community working as the artistic director of Evansville Civic Theatre.

"In the beginning stages, I expected them to tell me I couldn't do it because I didn't exactly have the healthiest lifestyle," he said.

Roach did the initial blood work and learned he was a match. He was also in the ideal age range and had a similar body type and metabolism as Foerster. But the doctors told Roach they were placing him on the backburner in case a biological family member could donate.

One offered, but their kidney was too small. Someone else tried, but she wasn't the right blood type. The doctors even tried a procedure to bypass an incorrect blood type that works 99 percent of the time.

Foerster's body rejected the kidney. It turned purple and died, requiring another surgery to remove it.

After two failed transplants, Roach knew it was his turn to go to bat.

"It was like, 'Wow, is this really happening?'" he said.

Pushing forward

Roach said he's dealt with depression and anxiety issues in the past. Like many, he's wondered about his purpose in the world. He didn't necessarily see donating a kidney as finding that purpose, but he knew this could be a defining moment.

"There's not much in this world I can give," he said. "I'm not a veteran who served overseas. I'm not a firefighter. But this (donating a kidney) I can do. I can save a life. All it requires is my willingness to give up a part of myself."

Roach's parents were nervous about the donation because of their son's previous battles with anxiety and depression.

He said he's gone through some low points in his life, and his parents had to make sure it was something he was confident he could handle. But Roach had faith he could get through this because it was something greater than himself.

"It gives me a reason to push forward, to survive, to live, to be there and help," Roach said. "If (I achieve) nothing else in my life, this is something I can do that's good and makes someone else's life better."

Even focusing on the difference he could make, Roach still struggled a bit as the doctors carefully studied him as a potential donor. He was scared and became sick in the days leading up to the surgery. He feared his anxiety would keep him from doing the transplant. That fear though became part of his motivation.

He had to fight through it.

Roach hadn't told anyone but family about the possibility of donating, but in the days leading up to the surgery he opened up to close friends. He only made it public via social media hours before the surgery, asking for prayers because there was a 2 percent chance he wouldn't wake up from surgery. Roach also wanted prayers for a successful transplant.

He knew all transplants didn't work out. Foerster had already faced that twice.

"I had to adopt an attitude that it may fail," Roach said. "I had to be OK with that."

Hero

It was Aug. 21, the day of the solar eclipse, in Indianapolis.

Laying on a stretcher on his way to the operation room, Roach vaguely heard one of the nurses asking the others if they wanted to go outside to watch the eclipse. He was heavily medicated and went under moments later, only to gain consciousness while Foerster was being wheeled back to his room post-surgery.

It all worked beautifully. The kidney even started functioning quicker than usual.

"As they wheeled (Foerster) out - he was also very drugged up and emotional - but he was just crying and pointed at me saying 'That's my hero!' . That broke me," Roach said.

Hero is what Foerster thinks of now when he sees Roach.

Again, the only thing Foerster really knew about Roach before this was that he seemed like a nice guy who was involved in theater at Mount Vernon High School and the Evansville Civic Theatre. The two weren't close.

But now Roach is his hero.

"Part of him is in me now," Foerster said. "He's changed my life so much by doing this, and I'll be forever grateful to him. He's my hero."

Foerster has a new lease on life now, and he wants to spend all of it with his wife and family.

"Now I have a whole list of opportunities ahead of me," he said. "It's amazing. And (Roach) didn't do this for any kind of accolade. He didn't put it on Facebook like, 'Hey, everyone. Look at me and what I'm doing'. He did this to help his family out. I think family is very important to him."

It's still a weird concept to Roach that part of him is functioning three hours away in Indianapolis. He's excited to see what Foerster looks like next Christmas when he's fully recovered.

"I feel accomplished," Roach said.

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Source: Evansville Courier and Press

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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