Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series. The second article will run in next Sunday’s edition of the Community Common.
The sounds of laughter and tears of joy fill the room as family and friends gather to witness the miracle of life. However, those tears of joy quickly turn to sorrow as that brand-new baby boy — only a handful of minutes old — isn’t a normal, healthy child.
The mother and father weep over their baby as doctors break the news to them that their one and only child has a disability. The doctors inform the parents that growing up, their miracle will never be able to walk or talk — and will never even recognize them.
Broken hearted, his mother prayed for the strength to push her child. She begged God to allow him to live as normal life as possible.
Her prayers were answered. Thirty-four years later, Josh Presley has overcome his disabilities. He graduated from Russell High School in Kentucky. He loves his parents unconditionally and he’s never met a stranger he hasn’t talked to.
However, while Robin Presley’s prayers were answered 34 years ago, she’s had a different prayer request over the past six years. She wasn’t concerned with him living a normal life anymore, she was concerned with him staying alive.
Josh was born with one kidney and that kidney has deteriorated rapidly since 2010. Josh has an O-blood type, which is common, but is the most difficult to find a donor. Josh spent a year searching for a donor and initially found his cousin Jama Salyers, who happened to be a match. The surgery was scheduled for Jan. 14. However, a week before the surgery, there was a problem with the final round of blood testing and Salyers was no longer compatible with Josh.
Down and dejected, all hope seemed lost. It was inevitable that Josh was headed for dialysis and after that stage, it was anyone’s guess. After all, his kidney function was hovering around 15 percent when a normal person’s levels were between 80 and 100 percent.
Even though Josh was facing possible death, God had other plans.
Samantha Bryant emerged from the bright lights and blue skies of California to become Josh’s savior.
“That young lady saved my life,” Josh said. “God put her in my life for a reason.”
Josh’s kidney function had reached 11 percent when Bryant sacrificed herself to save his life.
“She’s just a Godsend,” Robin said. “She’s just an angel because Josh’s kidney was really, really, really failing.”
Bryant has dated Robin’s nephew, Scott McKenzie, for the past two years. The couple met when McKenzie was stationed at camp Pendleton in San Diego. The couple decided to move to Kentucky in October to be closer to McKenzie’s side of the family, especially after having their first son, Maximus.
Shortly after arriving in Kentucky, Bryant was introduced to the rest of the family — including Josh. She was immediately drawn to his outgoing personality.
Then in January, the devastating news came that Josh and Salyers where no longer a compatible match because one of Josh’s antibodies had spiked, which clashed with the antigens in Salyers’ blood. The surgery was canceled and Josh was back looking for a donor.
After Bryant heard the news, she immediately stepped up and agreed to be tested. She knew she had an O-blood type, so there was a possibility she might be a match.
However, despite Bryant’s willingness, she was placed at the end of the line as other family and friends had already agreed to be tested. With each result, the answer was continuously the same, “Not a match.”
In late May, it was finally Bryant’s turn to get tested. Once the results came back, it was a phone call Robin will never forget.
“When they called me and told me Samantha was compatible with Josh, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Robin said. “I told Josh’s coordinator who called me, of course she was in Lexington and I was here, that if she was in front of me, I would hug her neck.
“It’s just mixed emotions. You’re just so happy that they found somebody and a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.”
Robin immediately called Rick and told him the news. After a brief celebration, there was only one more person left to tell. Robin and Rick left work early, arriving home together to meet with Josh.
“We met with Josh and I told him that they had called and they said Samantha was a match, and that there were a couple of other tests to go through, but the surgery had already been scheduled for July 7,” Robin said. “He broke down and cried, he said Samantha is his Angel. God has saved him. God had sent Samantha here to save his life.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to know somebody has stepped up to save your child’s life. And that’s exactly what Samantha did.”
Even though the surgery was scheduled, the fears and anxiety were far from over. Just like the blood test with Salyers, Bryant and Josh had to be tested seven days prior to surgery, just to make sure Josh’s antibodies wouldn’t spike a second time.
Of course, regardless of the results, everything hinged on Bryant.
“Until we got the results of that last cross match, we were relieved but we were still anxious, praying that cross match had not changed,” Rick said. “It’s not just that but the donor has to go into the hospital and until that last moment, they can panic and say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to do this.’ All of that was going through our minds.”
Despite feeling like part of the family and having already been tested, Bryant did have reservations about the donation. The 24-year-old Bryant was a healthy person and her biggest concern was her family — she’s always wanted a big family. Bryant, who already had one child, was aware of the complications of future child births in mothers with one kidney.
Bryant admitted that if a woman was going to become a donor, donation clinics typically wanted women who didn’t want to have children and that profile didn’t fit Bryant.
Bryant was assigned a case worker at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, who was strictly an advocate of her. It didn’t take long to realize the ramifications of her decision.
“They basically went into it saying, we’re hurting you doing this,” Bryant said. “You are a healthy person and we are not fixing you, we are not helping you, we are technically hurting you. You are coming out of here less functioning then you were coming in.”
While she was completing the process, Bryant took some time to evaluate her situation. She spoke to McKenzie as well as Salyers. Both people gave her reassurance.
Still not satisfied, Bryant decided to do a little research herself. She Googled complication studies of pregnancies from having one kidney. After looking at the statistics, she realized she had made the right decision.
Now, there was only one thing left to do — donate her kidney.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.