One family donates four kidneys to save New York man’s life: ‘Defied all odds’

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As many Americans focus on holiday shopping, Mark Fenrich, 34, is celebrating the gift of a lifetime – which he received not once, but four times.

During his lifelong struggle with kidney disease, the New York IT project manager has received four kidney transplants from four different family members.

Fox News Digital spoke with Fenrich and one of his surgeons, Dr. John Bynon of the Memorial Hermann Transplant Center at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, about how kidney transplant journey had “defied all odds.”

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Fenrich received his first transplant from his mother when he was just a baby, at 21 months old.

“Growing up, my parents treated me like a normal kid,” he said. They didn’t stress that “I had this tight thing in the back.”

Mark Fenrich with doctors

In the picture Fenrich (far right) with Dr. Bynon (second from left) and other members of his care team. He called it a “dream come true” to work with the team at the Texas Medical Center. (Mark Fenrich/Memorial Hermann Transplant Center)

At about 12 or 13 years old, when Fenrich’s kidney failed and he needed a second transplant, he began to realize that his condition was a “bigger issue”.

The second transmission came from Fenrich’s father.

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“Then once all the fanfare around the event itself settled down, I forgot about it for a while, except to take my daily medications,” he said.

In 2015, when Fenrich was 26, he needed another kidney – which he received from his uncle.

“We were hoping that would be the last one I needed, but it didn’t work out that way,” he said.

Mark Fenrich with his wife

Fenrich is pictured with his wife, Erin Fenrich, before undergoing a kidney transplant. (Mark Fenrich)

In December 2022, Fenrich’s third transplant kidney began to fail. On January 1, he started dialysis, a treatment that helps the body remove excess fluid and waste products from the blood when the kidneys can no longer make them.

“I was connected to a dialysis machine three times a week, three hours at a time,” he said. “I joke that it’s the part-time job that nobody wants – but you have to do it literally just to survive. “

At first, Fenrich’s transplant doctors in Houston hoped the kidney would regain its function, but too much damage had already been done.

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The doctors confirmed that a genetic disorder called aHUS (atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome), which causes small clots to form in the blood vessels, blocking blood flow to the kidneys.

This can lead to kidney damage or failure.

Fenrich now needed another kidney – but he never asked people to donate something he felt comfortable doing, he said.

Mark Fenrich

During his lifelong battle with kidney disease, Fenrich has donated a total of four kidneys from four different members of his family. (Mark Fenrich)

His wife, mother and father sent the message out to the extended family. At first, one of Fenrich’s cousins ​​volunteered but eventually changed his mind once at the medical center.

“Eventually, his brother, Steven, came forward and wanted to donate,” Fenrich said.

A few weeks later, Fenrich received his fourth kidney in April 2023.

The surgery especially complicated, because all previous operations had “used a transplant site” — “so we didn’t have a lot of places to put a new kidney,” Bynon told Fox News Digital.

“There really isn’t a dollar amount, and there aren’t any words I could say, that would be enough to thank them. “

Another element of risk was that only about one in five people would get a second chance at the surgery because they are “noticed,” the doctor said.

“It’s hard to find a kidney that is [the body] he will not refuse immediately,” he said.

Mark Fenrich and cousin

Fenrich is pictured with his cousin, Stephen DiGiorgio, who donated his most recent kidney transplant. (Mark Fenrich)

In Fenrich’s case, the surgery was successful. He called it a “dream come true” to work with the team at the Texas Medical Center.

A few months later, he said that he feels healthy and strong.

To prevent another kidney rejection, Fenrich is now taking medicine called eculizumab, which has been shown to be effective in treating his genetic condition.

“It’s a relatively expensive drug, but it basically stops the rejection process in its tracks,” Bynon said. “And so it really opened the door for a lot of people who had aHUS to get a transplant. “

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Before the medicine was available, the doctor said, many people with kidney failure would get a transplant, only to have it work for a short time or not at all.

“The development of this drug and its routine use for people like Mark has been a godsend for these patients,” he said.

“When you identify a patient who has aHUS, the important thing is to treat them at the time of the transplant or just before the transplant, so that you can prevent this process from starting forever.”

Mark Fenrich with his uncle

Mark Fenrich is pictured with his uncle, Joe Fenrich, after receiving his third transplant. (Mark Fenrich)

Fenrich also gets blood work once a month to make sure his new kidney is healthy and working properly, and seeing his doctors once or twice a year.

‘Come a long way’

Transplantation medicine has come a long way, Bynon noted.

“When I started doing this almost 30 years ago, almost everyone was rejected – a lot of people lost their kidney in the first six months,” he said.

“We’ve come a long way. Today, because the medications are so good, acute rejection is a very rare event.”

Mark Fenrich and his family

“There really isn’t a dollar amount, and there aren’t any words that I could say, that would be enough to thank them,” Fenrich said of the family members who have donated kidneys to him over the years. (Mark Fenrich)

Long-term compliance with the medications is critical, the doctor noted — “otherwise, your body will find the kidney and try to kill it because it’s not part of you, even if it’s a close game.” there “

Given the quality of the fourth kidney Fenrich received, Bynon said he hopes it will last a lifetime.

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“It’s a life-saving event,” he said. “It may not be as amazing as a heart or liver transplant, but it saves lives just the same. “

Throughout the process, Fenrich said he has “never taken ‘no’ for an answer” and has advocated strongly for himself.

Mark Fenrich with his father

Pictured is Mark Fenrich with his father, James Fenrich, who donated his second kidney. (Mark Fenrich)

“I don’t look at my kidney transplants as something that has ever held me back,” he said.

“In terms of energy, I’d say I’m better than where I was with the third transplant in terms of quality of life.”

He said he is grateful to the family members who have stepped up and helped save his life.

“My mom and dad were going to do it and they had no choice,” he joked. “But my uncle and cousin didn’t have to step up and do this.”

“I don’t look at my kidney transplants as something that has ever set me back.”

No amount of money could give his thanks, said Fenrich.

“There really isn’t a dollar amount, and there aren’t any words I could say, that would be enough to thank them. “

Both Bynon and Fenrich emphasized the importance of donor education.

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“They need to know exactly what’s in it for them, and if they have questions, they need to go to someone who can provide answers,” Fenrich said.

“For the person who ends up needing a kidney, the only hope is that people get educated and make the decision to donate.”

Mark Fenrich with his wife

“In terms of energy, I’d say I’m better than where I was with the third transplant in terms of quality of life,” said Fenrich, pictured with his wife and dogs. (Mark Fenrich)

For other people suffering from kidney disease, he stressed the importance of being proactive about taking steps to protect their health.

“You need the doctors who are pushing to find your transplant and you need to advocate for yourself,” he said.

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Bynon agreed that Fenrich was instrumental in his own positive outcome.

“I was managing a small part of the vehicle that caused this to happen,” he said. “Mark made a lot of this happen because he didn’t say no. He kept fighting.”

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