Derailed by a rare disease that was destroying his kidneys, 23-year-old Clay Taber’s life is back on track today, thanks to a nurse who donated a kidney to the young Columbus man.
Emory University Hospital nurse Allison Batson contributed the organ during an operation Tuesday, about a year after she got to know Taber during his treatment at the Atlanta hospital.
The successful operation means Taber, a graduate of Columbus High School and Auburn University, can get on with his life, pursuing a career and marrying his sweetheart, Laura Calhoun. The wedding’s set for June 9, said his father Allen Taber, president and chief executive officer of SunTrust Bank’s West Georgia market.
His son’s life-threatening condition was diagnosed in August 2010, an eventful month for the Taber family. Clay’s 22nd birthday was Aug. 6, three days before he graduated from Auburn. The Tabers went to Fort Walton Beach to celebrate.
That’s where Clay started feeling ill. At first his parents passed it off as stress-related. Clay had just endured final exams and the frenetic pace of graduating, packing up, moving home and starting a job search.
They offered to head home to Columbus, but Clay wanted to stay at the beach, so they did. But then he got worse, feeling weak and running a fever. His most prominent symptom was night sweats, so severe his bed sheets became saturated and had to be changed every two hours.
When the Tabers got back in Columbus, Clay started seeing a doctor regularly, undergoing multiple tests to try to figure out what was wrong with a 22-year-old who’d always been in good health, playing basketball when he was at Richards Middle School and golf at Columbus High.
The vigor of youth seemed to be draining away.
“He didn’t have any energy. He wouldn’t eat,” his mother said. His weight loss was dramatic: Up to 30 pounds melted away in just two weeks.
On Aug. 27, 2010, his mother Sandra was in the Publix store off Macon Road, with a cart full of groceries, when the doctor called her cell phone and gave her the news: Clay was in kidney failure. He had to go to the hospital right away. His mother abandoned her groceries and headed straight home.
Clay went into Doctors Hospital, where the diagnosis was established: He had Goodpasture’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder characterized by kidney disease and lung hemorrhage.
The ailment’s precise cause is unknown. Like other autoimmune disorders, it makes the body attack itself, creating antibodies that assail the lungs and kidneys.
The months that followed were an ordeal, as he grew progressively weaker. “He couldn’t walk, he was so weak,” his mother said. He needed dialysis three times a week, each procedure lasting from 6:30 to 10:15 a.m.
He was transferred to Emory, where he wound up spending weeks on the hospital’s seventh floor, which houses the transplant unit. That’s where he met Batson.
Sandra Taber said Batson just fell in love with her handsome, personable son, but apparently she was not alone. Clay was popular with all the staff, his mother said, and friends back in Columbus contributed to that: They sent Clay so much fruit and other snacks that he became a sort of vending service. When someone took a break, they dropped by to partake of Clay’s larder, and Clay, always eager to talk, would entertain them.
His father said a family crisis helps you appreciate your friends and your faith. The Tabers got love and support from folks at St. Luke United Methodist Church, where they are members, and at First Presbyterian, which they more often attend. They especially were thankful for their extended family in their Hilton Heights neighborhood -- friends who were always there for them.
Though Clay was a good candidate for a kidney transplant, his O-negative blood type complicated his chances. A matching donor was hard to find. His mother didn’t qualify.
It just so happened that Batson, 48, was O-negative. She offered him a kidney. She said she was struck by how much Clay had to live for, having graduated from college and prepared to wed.
“People have asked me why I would do this for a stranger, or what if I had a family member in need one day, or why would I risk my own life or health for someone I barely know,” she said. “My answer is because I can. Sure, I have children who might possibly be in need one day, but here was this young man right in front of me who needs help -- today, and I am in a position to help him -- today.”
The Tuesday surgery was completed without complications. Both are doing well now, and the improvement in Clay’s health is striking, his mother said. He’s up and walking; he needs no more dialysis; he’s looking forward to moving on.
He has been working part-time for Cotton States Insurance, where prior to the transplant his boss gave him the necessary time off to undergo dialysis and other treatments at Emory. He has been invited to stay with the company, if he wants to, he said. But he may have other plans.
“I majored in finance at Auburn, and I would love to maybe pursue a banking career, and also it would be really cool to do something at Auburn’s athletic department,” he said. “Maybe a couple of months before all the surgery and everything, I applied for a job there.”
Wherever he goes, he’ll have a story to tell.
“It has been a long year and a half,” he said. “I know that there’s a lot of other people out there who are on dialysis, who have had kidney failure longer than me, and so by no means I am worse than the other persons. But I guess just the fact that Allison would do this … was just completely overwhelming.”