From Son to Father—the Gift of a Kidney and the Gift of Life

When 56-year-old Jose Calixto was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and needed a kidney transplant, his son Jonathan, age 30, quickly offered to donate a lifesaving kidney. “I never hesitated,” the son told Fox News Digital.

Jose was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2013 during a routine physical that stemmed from a course of medication taken years earlier. He lived with the disease for several years, but in the summer of 2021, his kidneys failed. He started dialysis treatment, which removed the waste and extra fluid from the blood, then returned the filtered blood back into the body. Jose received dialysis three times a week, for four hours each session. Dialysis is the standard treatment for kidneys that aren’t doing their job, and many people live on dialysis for years, but the best option for a long life is a kidney transplant. When Jose began dialysis, he had to stop working his 9-to-5 job as a porter in a New York City building and go on disability.

Unfortunately, Jose had complications from his disease and was hospitalized at The Mount Sinai Hospital. His kidney doctor (nephrologist), Vinita Sehgal, MD, told him his best treatment option would be a kidney transplant. Dr. Sehgal is a specialist in transplantation at The Mount Sinai Hospital and an Associate Professor of Medicine (Nephrology) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Jonathan offered to make the donation. He was saddened by Jose’s depleted quality of life and wanted to bring his father back to his former self, he told Fox News Digital.

The first step was to see if Jonathan was a healthy and compatible donor match for his father. They tested both Jose and Jonathan for histocompatibility—to see if their blood types and tissue types were compatible. They also performed a serum cross-match, a blood test to make sure Jose’s blood didn’t have antibodies that would work against Jonathan’s antigen cells—which would result in immediate rejection of the new kidney. In February 2023, the results came in: Father and son were a 50 percent match. Having a living donor meant Jose didn’t have to wait four to eight years on a kidney donation waiting list. But a 50 percent match isn’t a guarantee of a successful transplant. “This means their immune system is less likely to reject the new kidney,” Dr. Sehgal told Fox News Digital.

Now that the surgical team knew Jose and Jonathan were a good match genetically, they wanted to make sure they were both completely on board with the procedure. Transplant surgeons and nurse coordinators spoke separately with Jose and Jonathan. “They asked me so many times: ‘Are you sure? Do you really want to do this? Are you worried about anything?’” Jonathan told Fox News Digital. "For me, it was never a question. I knew that if I could get the chance, I wanted to do it.”

Jose, however, was another story. “He didn’t like the idea of someone giving up a piece of their body, especially his son—it felt like it was going to cut my life in half, in a sense,” Jonathan told Fox News Digital. Doctors explained that this was not the case. Typically, a living kidney donor who follows a healthy lifestyle can lead a normal life with just one kidney. Using living donors is common for kidney transplants; about half of the kidney transplants at The Mount Sinai Hospital involve living donors. After much explanation, Jose accepted that the procedure wouldn’t affect Jonathan’s life and agreed to the transplant.

On the day of the procedure, March 29, father and son came to the hospital together. The transplant team kept them side by side. “Even on the day of surgery, they put us in beds next to each other,” Jonathan told Good Morning America in another report on the family’s health journey. “We saw each other in a very vulnerable state.”

The three-hour procedure to remove Jonathan’s kidney was laparoscopic, a minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon, Edward H. Chin, MD, made four small incisions to disconnect the necessary blood vessels and one larger one to remove the kidney. Dr. Chin is a Professor of Surgery at Icahn Mount Sinai.

Using laparoscopy means Jonathan had and a quicker recovery time than he would have with traditional surgery. Jonathan left the hospital the next day and went back to his regular life about two months later.

Inserting the kidney into Jose’s abdomen, performed by Antonios Arvelakis, MD, MPH was a little more complicated. Dr. Arvelakis is a multi-organ transplant surgeon at the Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute at Mount Sinai and an Associate Professor of Surgery at Icahn Mount Sinai. First, Dr. Arvelakis cut into Jose’s lower abdomen to place the new kidney. He left Jose’s own kidneys there, as is standard procedure. Then he connected the donated kidney to Jose’s blood vessels and to the bladder, so it could function properly. Jose left the hospital three days after the procedure and was able to return to his normal activities about a month after he got home.

Neither Jose nor Jonathan experienced any major complications. “Donors usually have a difficult time initially, as they are coming from a healthy position to go through surgery,” Elaine Mitchell, Mount Sinai’s Living Donor Transplant Coordinator, told Fox News Digital.

Dianne LaPointe Rudow, DNP, examined Jonathan six weeks after surgery, and Jonathan will return for check-ups at six months, one year, and two years after the procedure. At these visits, Dr. LaPointe Rudow will check Jonathan’s blood pressure, weight, bloodwork, and urine. Two months after the procedure, Jonathan was feeling "back to normal," he told Fox News Digital.

“Recipients usually feel better at first, but the healing process is more of a roller coaster, as they take medication to prevent rejection and need monitoring twice weekly, initially," the transplant coordinator told Fox News Digital. Doctors keep a close eye on transplant recipients; they usually check patients twice during the first month, weekly for the second month, and then once a month for the rest of that year. At each appointment, Dr. Sehgal checks Jose’s bloodwork to make sure his kidney is working well and adjusts his medications, if necessary.

Jose is off dialysis and feels his energy and appetite returning. "I’ve been given another chance at life," Jose told Fox News Digital. Jose is grateful to Jonathan. “It strengthened our relationship, because my son literally gave me a part of himself,” Jose told Good Morning America. “I’ve been literally been given a new life. We can go out to eat, spend time out of the house with the family.” His advice for others? "If you have a loved who is going through kidney failure or is on dialysis, maybe you can be the one who gives them another chance at life," Jose told Fox News Digital. “I know how much it has meant to me.”