A Southold graduate suffering from a lifelong illness is in need of a kidney — and his high school sweetheart is determined to find him one.
“It started when I was 4 or 5 years old. I was having these unbelievable harsh headaches, I wasn’t sleeping, my blood pressure was high,” Andrew Heard said. “Pediatricians didn’t know what was going on with me.”
One day Heard’s body went into shock. “My blood pressure went crazy, through the roof.”
His doctors discovered that he was born with a defect known as urinary reflux, where his urine would empty into his kidney. He had various surgeries to try to fix the problem by re-implanting his ureters.
Finally, when he was 18 years old, he was told he needed a kidney transplant. He was in stage five renal failure. His mother donated the organ.
“The second chance at life she gave me — I lived it,” Heard said. “I worked 15 hour days for years on end, making great money, started my own business… just living life to the fullest.”
He graduated in 1998 and soon moved out to Hawaii. He lived in Maui for 16 years before moving to Honolulu two years ago. Now, nearly 20 years after his first donation, Heard is in stage 5 renal failure once more. His doctors say he is in need of a second transplant.
“About a year-and-a-half ago, I began noticing changes in my body. I had loss of muscle mass, and I was out of breath all the time,” Heard explained.
He went to see his doctor, who told him his kidney was failing once again. Heard’s kidney is currently functioning at between 5 and 10 percent of typical performance. Heard, who said he used to be an avid runner and athlete, can now barely walk up stairs due to a lack of adequate blood flow in his body. He will need another kidney soon, his doctors say, or else he will need to turn to dialysis.
Jodi Arnold, who dated Heard in high school when he had his initial transplant, is spearheading the effort to find Heard a new kidney.
Arnold said she offered her kidney to her friend “gladly” when she heard the news.
“I knew I could live without a kidney, but I couldn’t live without him,” she said, saying she and Heard remain “good friends” to this day.
The decision was easy.
“When someone you care about is suffering, you want to do what you can to help them. It was an easy decision for me,” Arnold said. “Then, during a CT scan to evaluate me for donation, the doctors found kidney stones that precluded me from donating.”
But that wasn’t all they found.
“They also discovered that I have a narrow ureter, which would have caused me problems later on,” she said. “I would have never known.”
With her hopes of donating a kidney to her friend dashed, Arnold is now turning to the internet.
She began a campaign on Facebook to spread the word about Heard’s plight, and about kidney donations in general.
“Many people simply aren’t aware that they can donate one of their kidneys to someone in need — without affecting their own lifestyle afterwards. Of those who have donated, 95 percent say that they have no regrets about doing so and would do it again,” she wrote on Facebook.
Heard has blood type O, and would ideally need a donor of the same blood type. There is also the option of joining a kidney donation chain if a willing donor with an unsuitable blood type is found, as Arnold mentions in her post.
When Arnold approached Heard about starting an online campaign for a kidney, Heard said he was “very moved.’
“It’s something words can’t even describe. She’s a pretty unbelievable individual — she’s always been one to put others ahead of herself,” Heard said. “It was really moving to know that she had this unconditional, everlasting love and support. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.”
Arnold asks that anyone who thinks they may be able to help in any way or knows someone who can to please email [email protected] or call (808) 463-8848.
Story reported by Katie Blasl