They’re just a kidney apartFather Glenville Browne (left) and son Glenn happily recounting funny moments from their kidney transplant operation. (Picture by Gercine Carter.)
By Gercine Carter | Sun, May 20, 2012 - 11:32 AM
There is constant laughter, light banter and even a baby’s babble in the Green Point, St Philip household of Glenville Browne these days.
That’s far from the 12 years of anguished moments when he had to provide broad shoulders and put on a brave face for Glenn, his teenaged son, with failing kidneys.
Today, Glenn has a new kidney – his father’s – donated exactly three years ago in surgery marking the resumption of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s (QEH) kidney transplant programme.
It was the first “living related kidney transplant” done at the QEH in ten years. It was also the surgery that restored Glenn’s will to live, and brought back his father’s joy at being able to clown around in the manner the two had been used to before kidney disease set in and shattered their lives.
The younger Browne is now age 31. Two years ago, he married his former teenaged sweetheart and they have a nine-month-old son. The term “best man” meant a lot more to Glenville than just standing by his son’s side on his wedding day.
Last week, Glenville looked to the skies and fought back tears as he listened to Glenn relating his long kidney ordeal at a conference on organ transplantation convened by the QEH at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
When his turn came to speak, Glenville told an audience, including transplant specialists from other countries, that “making the decision to give my son a kidney was not a hard decision at all”.
He explained: “For 12 years, I have seen Glenn go through life barely existing. He would go to dialysis, when he finally got dialysis, and come home bombed out for the balance of the day, and if he can make it to work the next day, we would be lucky. Then, he comes in and he would be lifeless.
“It seemed to me he was in pain all the time and it was really heartbreaking. I did not fear the loss of my kidney or even my life. My only fear was that I would lose my son.
“It took a lot of hiding my own feelings,” he added, and after pausing to fight back the tears, continued, “to try to make him strong enough to do what he had to do [undergo a kidney transplant].”
That he chose to give his son one of his kidneys has always prompted questions.
“I have had fathers and mothers come up to me and tell me that is something they could not have done . . . that there is no way they are donating a kidney or any part of their body to anybody; they don’t care how much they love them.”
Not so for this father, who represented critical support in his son’s battle with kidney disease. Throughout Glenn’s teenaged years, he was the lone parent there to take the journey with a son whose body had reached the point of end stage renal failure.
He was the one who made the frequent trips to the hospital, who watched as his son’s health deteriorated and hurt deeply when, in despair, his son would mention the dreaded word, suicide.
His wife had to be away in the United States and could not be here for them.
In an interview with the SUNDAY SUN last week, the father and son shared their experiences in the long journey together to the point of a kidney transplant.
“Seeing Glenn’s recovery and the progress he has made since then is all the satisfaction I needed,” daddy declared.
“There is absolutely no comparison to the person he was four years ago. It has done a lot to his personality and his whole outlook on life. He now has goals and ambitions. Quite frankly, four years ago Glenn was just looking to die. There are many times that he told me that.”
Glenn went on dialysis at age 21. He would wake around 4 a.m. to leave his St Philip home at 4:30 to get the five o’clock bus to Bridgetown to be one of the first patients on the dialysis machine by 6 a.m., undergoing a four-hour session. He had to wait eight years for the kidney transplant – his hopes for the operation being dashed on three occasions.
“Coming up to my surgery, I was ecstatic. I was so happy to even be anywhere close to having the transplant done; I was [at a loss] for words many times.”
Glenn and his father erupted in laughter over and over, especially when they recounted hilarious moments surrounding the surgery – like seeing each other in the surgical stockings fitted before being taken to theatre.
The laughter between them comes easily; they laugh throughout the day on the job at the DVD store Glenville first set up to create employment for an ailing Glenn, and when they get home and settle down for the evening.
It lightened the tension as preparations were being made in the hospital to remove Glenville’s kidney and place it in his son’s body.
“After they prepped us we had a little time where we were just clowning around with each other. We were just three doors away from each other.”
Glenn confessed: “I was nervous. The nervousness only started to set in when I saw the shadows from the sun start to change. Shortly after that, they came and started to prep my veins and I was like, where is my dad?”
They shared stories about the first day after the surgeries, with Glenn talking about a new kidney that worked so well it enabled him to pass 16 litres of fluid so well he had no embarrassment showing off his ability to urinate, fully exposing himself to visitors at his bedside who were clearly amused by this lack of modesty.
The fear of what could have happened during surgery is now behind them, though Glenville maintained there was no fear on his part. He had decided early that a kidney transplant would be the preferred option to dialysis and that he would donate one of his.
“Because I had done some research, I was not as scared about it as I probably should have been. I had the confidence that these people know what they are doing, they do this fairly often and if it is my misfortune that I should die, so be it.”
He had also brushed aside the concerns of a son who pleaded: “Daddy, I can’t put you through that!” when kidney specialist Professor George Nicholson first broached the idea, while explaining the dangers.
“I said, ‘Glenn, we don’t know what will happen and if it happens, we deal with it.’ My only fear was [that] something would happen at the last minute – a bus accident or something that became an emergency – and these two young boys with these kidneys would have to wait for a couple of days!
“When they actually told me and Glenville that we were going for the surgery and they started prepping us, I was more relieved than frightened. I was relieved that finally after 13 years we are getting this thing done.”
The memory of that moment when he again saw his child to whom he had given a kidney just hours before, is indelible. The experience still draws a tear when he relates it.
“The morning I woke up and Ruth [Ruth Shorey, transplant nurse coordinator] asked me if I wanted to go and see my son.”
He was reluctant initially but the transplant surgeon Dr Margaret O’Shea and Nurse Shorey were soon wheeling Glenville down to Glenn’s room.
“He looked at me. I looked at him and both of us burst out crying and laughing,” Glenville said.
There is no mistaking the strong bond between this father and son, a bond about which Glenn quips: “Any closer would have joined us at the hip!”
He adds that life since the surgery has changed for both of them.
“It has changed our relationship in that he is not dependent on me anymore. Before, I never used to travel for more than a day or two because he would always be on my mind. Since then, I have been away. I can leave him alone now, he is not a worry to me anymore . . . that dependence has gone. It is almost like weaning a child.”
With a wife and baby and a functioning kidney, Glenville no longer has to bother that “I could not do anything without considering, suppose Glenn leaves me?”.
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