Son Gives Father a Second Chance at Life
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The life of Robert T. Hughes Jr. (Robert Jr.) of Brunswick, Md., seems to revolve around organ transplantation. A living donor kidney transplant from his son this year at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) was his third organ transplant in 20 years.
The son, Robert Andrew Hughes (Robert A.), had seen how his father had suffered when another transplanted organ, a liver, began failing when Robert A. was about 10 years old. At the time, he felt powerless to do anything about it. The organ had been transplanted in 1998, after Robert Jr.’s immune system began attacking his native liver, a condition called autoimmune hepatitis.
That transplant had given Robert Jr. time to marry his wife, Sandra, and have two children.
By 2011, the autoimmune disorder had returned, attacking the donated liver.
“It didn’t take long for me to go downhill pretty fast,” said Robert Jr.
Doctors at the family’s local medical center concluded Robert Jr. was too sick for a transplant, but the family held on to hope. Robert Jr. was added to the transplant waiting list at UMMC to increase the chance of finding a matching liver. An organ became available at the 11th hour, with Rolf Barth, MD, successfully completing the transplant procedure.
Robert Jr. was able to get back to a normal life, with new hobbies including acting and improv; his son participated in plays and shows alongside him. The Hughes family also volunteered for transplant organizations, spreading awareness about the benefits of organ donation.
Young Robert A. never forgot how that transplanted organ had restored his dad to health.
While that liver continues to work well, by 2017, side effects from the medications required to prevent rejection of the liver had affected Robert Jr.’s kidney function. UMMC kidney specialists eventually determined that he needed kidney dialysis while awaiting a kidney transplant.
This time, Robert A. felt he could do something to help his father. The family joined the UMMC Living Donor Kidney Program. Testing showed Sandra was a match for her husband’s kidney, but a medical condition ruled her out as a donor. As soon as Robert turned 18, he was tested and found to be a match.
The son was overjoyed at the opportunity to donate a kidney to his dad.
“My dad’s liver donor allowed him to see me graduate high school, go on vacations with us, and share in more family experiences,” Robert A. recalled. “I wanted to give my kidney to my dad so he could see all of the things that haven’t happened yet; his children getting married, having grandchildren, and more happy years with my mother.”
The living donor kidney transplantation occurred on January 7, 2019, again with Dr. Barth successfully performing the surgery.
“Luckily it went off without a hitch,” said Robert Jr. “They did it laparoscopically, which is awesome, he doesn’t have a scar and he came out doing really well.”
“It was really worth it,” said Robert A. “I would do it over again just to give my dad a kidney.”