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My Kidney Transplant Story: Matt Hess

Matt Hess

My microsite saved my life. My kidney transplant journey started with an ATV accident about four years ago.

I was crushed between an ATV and a tree, which caused catastrophic injuries including paralysis from the waist down, ribs through both of my lungs, and my left side being completely crushed. Luckily, there was another group of riders behind us that had a trauma nurse with them. She was able to keep me alive until the helicopter arrived.

I was flown to three hospitals before they found one that could handle my level of injuries. I ended up at the University of Kentucky and they literally saved my life. Both my kidneys were crushed, which caused kidney failure, and I had so many other injuries. After the accident, I was in the hospital for 11 months.

When I got out of the hospital I was set up with rehab, but nobody taught me how to turn my body so I ended up with a bedsore that exposed my tailbone. That ended up infecting my spinal fluid, so they had to do surgery to remove, clean and replace my spinal fluid. During that operation I died medically a couple of times.

It was very hard to stay positive, but I did.

Matt Hess

I was really put through the wringer. I am so much better now but I was in really, really bad shape for a while. I don’t think I got out of bed for two years after the accident, and once I got home from the hospital I was never home for more than five days before an infection caused me to go back. Then, because I was so frail and so immune-compromised, they would keep me in the hospital for the full course of the antibiotics.

Meanwhile, the world was just finding out what COVID was, so I was lying in a hospital bed barely able to move and then my family was ripped away from me. It was very hard to stay positive, but I did.

The doctors were hoping my kidneys would recover over time, but that never really happened: one was functioning at 20% and the other at around 15%. I had torn my ureter on the right kidney, so for three years I had to have a nephrostomy, which is a tube that goes directly into the kidney to drain out urine.

In order to get me on the transplant list for a kidney, because you can’t have any open wounds, they closed the bedsore on my sacrum with a muscle flap and a skin graft. They also had to remove my right kidney, even though it was functioning better than my left, because I had the nephrostomy tube running into it.

That surgery, in August 2021, left me with one kidney functioning at about 15%, causing me to be in end-stage renal failure. I was having dialysis three times a week to keep me alive.

I didn’t really know the difference between transplants with deceased versus living donors. I was in line at the DMV with my mom waiting to take the test to get my driver’s license back (it actually took a little over a year, because of COVID, and because now I drive with adaptive functions and I had to go through countless hours of training before I could even apply), when I got an email from the National Kidney Registry about one of their microsite trainings.

The webinar taught us so much—it was really a godsend.

Matt Hess

My mom had applied to be a donor, but was denied in the very last test because her heart wasn’t strong enough. We were literally standing in line racking our brains trying to figure out how to get the message out that we needed a donor when that email came in about microsites, with a link to join a webinar to learn more. We signed up, and that’s where we really learned about microsites, including how to set one up, how to promote it and the support the NKR gives you. The webinar taught us so much—it was really a godsend.

After the webinar, we got to work on my microsite right away. I remember working on it on Thanksgiving Day. By Christmas of 2022, it was approved.

We posted the link on my parents’ Facebook page and within a month it had over 1,800 hits. Four people signed up to donate for me: two first cousins who I’m close to but who had no idea I was in kidney failure, one friend I hadn’t seen or spoken to in 30 years, and one stranger—a nurse from Paoli Hospital. To this day I don’t know who she is.

Two weeks later I got a random call from a friend I grew up with but hadn’t spoken to in over 25 years, Stephanie. She said, “I saw your story on your mom’s Facebook page and knew you were struggling, but I had no idea you were in kidney failure. I have a proposition for you. My husband was going to donate his kidney to our neighbor’s son, but by the time Brian got approved, he already had another donor. Brian has done his research and is still fully committed to saving a life. He wants to complete the process of donating to someone in need. Would you like his kidney?” I said, “Uh, yes please!”

It’s amazing that within two months of launching my microsite, I had a kidney.

Matt Hess

Brian had already been approved by Penn and I was approved through Penn as well, so that made it easy. We knew right away we were not a match, so we looked at paired exchange. It took the NKR just four weeks to find matches for both of us. His kidney went to a 50-year-old in North Carolina and I got mine from a 30-year-old in Pennsylvania. Paired exchange is just incredible—they made it happen so fast for me.

I had my transplant surgery on February 28, 2023. It’s amazing that within two months of launching my microsite, I had a kidney. The NKR, the microsite, my microsite coach Debbie Parrish, and all the support I received made it happen for me.

Brian had his surgery two weeks after mine, and between the two of us we were able to connect two kidney donation chains to make one about 14 people long. When Brian was in the hospital after his surgery, I went to visit him. It was the first time we met face to face.

Matt (left) and Brian