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Coal City man has been on both sides of organ donation

'I was still supposed to be invincible at this age'

Rob Hicks of Coal City tells his organ donation story to a group at Morris Hospital.
Rob Hicks of Coal City tells his organ donation story to a group at Morris Hospital.

Not many people can say they've given and received an organ before, but Rob Hicks of Coal City has been on both sides of the experience.

It began when, at a family Easter celebration, a relative mentioned she needed a kidney.

"I don't know what came over me, but I blurted out 'I'll give you one,'" Hicks said.

The woman was something of a distant relative — his mother's aunt by marriage. But he recalled that, for the rest of the day, she had a big smile on her face after he offered.

He recently told his story to a group of employees at Morris Hospital. The hospital does not perform organ transplant surgeries, but it does offer one of the first steps in the process.

Michelle Brewick, the ICU supervisor at Morris Hospital, said her office tries to honor the person donating their organs. Staff that are available will line the hallway as the organ donor is brought past in what they call an Honor Walk.

"It's not just for the patient," she said. "It's for their family, too."

Hicks had his operations done in Chicago. When he donated his kidney, he joked that he had wanted the surgeon to install a zipper so if his aunt bothered him too much, he could take his kidney back.

He recovered, and in the years that followed he started a family. After a while, however, he felt his energy levels dwindle. He wasn't sure if it was stress or laziness. One morning, he remembered, he physically could not get out of bed. He said his first thought was that he had mononucleosis because he'd heard the illness has similar symptoms.

Then he began smelling ammonia wherever he went, and tasting metal when he ate. After some trips to the doctor, he said he was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney disease. He would need a new one.

He was 25.

"I was still supposed to be invincible at this age," he said. He would need to be on dialysis until he could get a new kidney

Hicks had one thing going for him, though. Because he was a previous donor, he would be put on a priority list.

It was not an easy road. He received one kidney but, due to an infection, it had to be taken out again, and he had to go back on dialysis. A lot of close family members died in a short period of time, and his house was hit by a tornado and he and his family lived in their camper for five months.

Then, he got the call again. There was a kidney for him. He said he asked to see the kidney before they put it in him, and he noticed there was an extra nodule on the side. Where there is usually two, this one had three. Hicks asked the surgeon what that was.

"He said 'God put it there,'" Hicks said.

Now, 18 months after the transplant, Hicks said everything is going well. He is taking immunosuppresant drugs to keep his body from rejecting the donated organ, which have other side effects. But he is living his life.

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