In rare occurrence wife was able to give husband her kidney for fourth transplant
When looking for a spouse, many search for their perfect match.
Madison residents Chuck and Jennifer Dew found that and more in each other over the years since they met as teenagers.
Chuck recently underwent his fourth transplant surgery, and Jennifer donated her kidney to save his life.
It is rare that a spouse is a match for an organ donation, with less than 10 percent of spouses matching in the United States.
The couple met as teens, and Jennifer’s father wouldn’t let her date until she was older.
“When I turned 18, my dad finally let us date. I guess it was destiny,” she said.
The couple has been married for 22 years. Together they have two daughters: Riley, 19, and Lauren, 15.
Jennifer said Chuck was born with a structural defect that is known to cause renal failure. He has had problems with his kidneys for most of his life.
He began to have kidney failure and needed dialysis and a transplant around 1990-91.
On February 17, 1992, he received a living donor kidney transplant from his mother.
“But due to what we know from physician research, the kidney did not take due to surgical error,” she said.
After that, he had to go back on dialysis. A few months later, he received a cadaver kidney transplant that did not take.
“In June 1993, I remember very well, Chuck was at his dialysis treatment and got a call that another kidney was on its way and that he should get ready to get to UAB for surgery,” she said. “He called me crying in fear. He was hesitant to go from the trauma he had experienced just a year prior. He went anyway, and it was the best decision of his life.”
Thanks to what Jennifer said was a “selfless decision by an amazing person,” Chuck had 24 years of wonderful experiences.
That person’s decision to donate organs gave him 24 years of health.
“We were able to go to college and graduate nursing school, get married, have children and enjoy time,” she said. “All of the things we take for granted on a daily basis.”
Jennifer said the life of the donor’s organs extended past their lifespan to better Chuck’s life.
“And I can tell you that Chuck took very good care of his gift. He cherished every minute with it and never took for granted where it came from,” she said.
In March 2017, the couple knew the kidney was getting old and function was poor. When they found out that he would have to return to dialysis soon, Jennifer could never have guessed that she would be his next donor.
In June 2017, the kidney was no longer functioning, and they began training for home hemo dialysis.
“We felt like bringing hemo dialysis into our home was a great option for us, and we felt confident that we could manage the demands of this,” Jennifer said.
However, Chuck works three to four 12-hour shifts as a nurse at University of Mississippi Medical Center. So, the couple had to figure out how they were going to fit four three to four-hour dialysis sessions in each week.
“Chuck never gave up though,” she said. “He felt bad a lot.”
Jennifer said she spent much of her time praying for her husband.
“We had a lot of late nights and very early mornings that just seemed to repeat themselves over and over again,” she said.
Around this time, Chuck was being evaluated for the transplant list at UMMC and UAB.
“When we got to UAB, we felt like we were in the best hands and had an amazing team of physicians and nurses,” she said. “The doctors spoke to us about the options for Chuck and strongly suggested a living donor since he has had previous transplants.”
She knew with certainty that she was willing to be tested.
“I prayed hard that I would be a perfect match for him,” she said.
The week of Thanksgiving 2018, she found out she was a suitable donor for Chuck.
Around Christmas, she received a letter from UAB that said she was accepted.
“It was the best gift anyone could ever given us,” she said. “It was such a blessing and an answered prayer.”
They checked into the hospital at UAB on March 10 and had surgery across from each other at the same time on March 11.
“It was a very emotional and happy day,” she said. “The kidney acted like it never even knew it left my body and began working immediately. It was a hard immediate recovery for both of us.”
They both experienced some pain following the surgery, but they were discharged a week post operation.
“Receiving an organ transplant is the greatest gift of all gifts,” Chuck said. “There are no words to describe how I feel. A new kidney represents a new beginning, a second chance for myself and my family.”
Friends, family and community members stepped up to help with food, gift cards and donations. Jennifer said she is so thankful for that outpouring of love during a difficult time.
Now they are two weeks post-surgery and healing well.
“We went out to eat together here in Birmingham for the first time, and Chuck was so excited to get a refill on his drink,” she said. “He is now able to drink unlimited amounts and eat what he wants. We can really appreciate the little things.”
“My birth mother made the decision to give me up when she knew she couldn’t give me the life she wanted,” she said. “I don’t think she would have ever known how many people this would impact. It put me on the path to give my kidney to my soul mate. We are now of one flesh like God wants us to be. I feel so lucky.”
Chuck said he considers his wife his hero for all she has done.
“I guess she turned out to be my perfect match after all,” he said.