By John McBryde, For the Williamson Herald
“I was told I had three choices: dialysis, a transplant or death.
Kidney Transplant Recipient
For Kevin and Jennie Thistlethwaite, Valentine’s Day is not about flowers, chocolates or a candlelight dinner. It’s about a kidney.
“Actually,” Jennie Thistlethwaite said from the couple’s home in Brentwood, “Valentine’s Day for us is on June 14.”
Romance was in the air that day in 2011, and not across a white tablecloth at Mere Bulle’s. The Thistlethwaites were wooing before a group of surgeons and nurses at the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, where Kevin was undergoing an operation that would give him a new kidney and, quite literally, a new lease on life.
It wasn’t just any kidney, however. It was one that belonged to his wife of 21 years. An almost miraculous series of circumstances led to Jennie’s being the ideal donor.
So on June 14, 2011, several months after Kevin had endured dialysis treatments and ever-dampening hopes of finding a donor, Jennie underwent a four-hour surgery to have her left kidney removed and placed inside her husband waiting in an adjacent room.
“It was truly special, absolutely amazing,” said Kevin, 53, who today is in very good health and has a dietary restriction that only includes grapefruits and blood oranges. “What made it so special was the fact that we didn’t expect it.”
A Musical Marriage
Kevin and Jennie met in 1988 after Kevin had moved to the United States from his home in Lancaster, England. They first encountered each other at a Nashville writer’s night, where Jennie was singing with a group called Me Three and Kevin was part of an English country band known as White Line Fever. They hit it off, both musically and romantically, and married in January 1992.
The two still play together as part of the Pickled Beats, a boisterous band whose set list is representative of the British Invasion of the 1960s. The band performs at Kimbro’s Café in Franklin from time to time.
They now live in a Brentwood subdivision with their 17-year-old daughter, Haydn, a senior at Brentwood High School. Jennie is an alumni advisor for the University of Phoenix, where she is also working toward a master’s degree, and Kevin is working toward a bachelor’s degree.
The family’s routine would be shaken when Kevin started having high blood pressure about four years ago. Tests revealed he had a disorder that caused his kidney to function at about 40 percent. At that time, he was told to just watch what he eats and he should be fine.
Then came severe chills and “a headache that I couldn’t rid of,” Kevin said. “I went to be tested then, and my kidney function was down to 10 percent. I was told I had three choices: dialysis, a transplant or death. It was simple as that.”
‘Watching Him Die’
Kevin began dialysis in early 2011, going to Vanderbilt three days a week for four hours each day. In the meantime, he was placed on a donor waiting list while he checked with various blood relatives to see if any would be a match.
“His color became gray, and he was losing a lot of weight,” Jennie said. “That was the hardest part for Haydn and me; we were watching him die.”
After other family members had been ruled out as a match, doctors suggested that Jennie go through a series of tests. Some with blood type A, like Jennie, can work as a donor for someone with blood type O, they were told. She even passed a test for a certain virus that most people have. If she had tested positive for cytomegalovirus, she could have still donated but it would have meant Kevin had to take an anti-rejection medication that costs $2,000 a month.
“I remember the day I was driving in for all the tests and Rod Stewart’s “Let It Be Me” was playing on the radio,” Jennie said. “It’s one of his schmaltzy songs, but the tears were really flowing.”
After their surgeries on that mid-June day, Kevin and Jennie found each other during recovery and decided to stroll through the Vanderbilt Transplant Center.
“There Kevin was still hooked up to his tubes and monitors, and we’re walking down the hall holding hands,” Jennie said. “We would tell people we met here, that this was the new pickup place.”
Posted on: 2/14/2013