“Have you ever felt that rush of joy that becomes so intense you instantly burst into tears? I’ve had that moment twice in my life, both times for the same reason with the same statement: ‘Your tests came back perfect, you’re going to be able to donate a kidney to save your brother’s life!’
My name is Kayla Prestidge and I donated my right kidney on June 7, 2018. I waited two long years to be able to do so, and I would do it again if the opportunity presented itself. I’m the youngest of four to the strongest single mother that has ever walked this earth. Being the baby sister has always had its perks as with any other family, less expectations and more coddling. The age gap is significant since there is an 11 to 15-year difference between them and I. My father abandoned my mom and siblings shortly after I was born so I always felt as if either I was the cause, or I was simply a mistake. It took 29 years of living and being able to provide this gift of life to someone that I’ve always looked up to, to finally open my eyes that this is exactly why I was born.
My oldest brother, Rommel Prestidge, was diagnosed in 2005 at the age of 31 with Chronic Glomerulonephritis. This disease that was affecting his kidneys ultimately led to kidney failure and he was eventually added to the Kidney Transplant waitlist. For reasons unknown to me, he was hiding the truth from my mom and siblings regarding the extent of his kidney disease. In February 2016 my entire family was finally made aware of the nightmare, my brother was dying and needed a transplant. At that time, I was completely uneducated about the kidneys and their function. I didn’t care. I knew instantly that I wanted to test. Without hesitation I asked for the information and the websites and started the process to donate.
February of 2016 was a long month for me. I filed my divorce papers on Valentine’s Day and my divorce was finalized before the end of the month. Mentally I was not prepared for the upcoming year. I had lost hope, weight, my job, and I was spiraling into depression. I moved in with my mom to help with my young children. My now ex-husband knew about the transplant and offered to help even after our divorce. But we argued constantly for the months following. I hid my pain from my family and children and put on the best fake customer service smile I knew how. I had become so distant from everyone that when I found out my brother was going on dialysis, it hit me like a truck. Why didn’t I follow through with the testing? Why did I take so long? If I wouldn’t have been so self-absorbed I could have prevented my brother from being connected to a machine for hours, multiple times a day.
Rommel started peritoneal dialysis in December of 2016. I finally woke up out of my 10-month daze and reached out to UCSF to start the process once again. I was mailed paperwork and a container that would store a full day’s worth of urine inside to test. The blood testing was bearable, it was just a few vials. I submit all the necessary paperwork and testing required and then it was a waiting game to move on to the next step. I was at work when the call came a few weeks later in January. My transplant coordinator told me that the first phase of testing was great and that they needed to send me to the UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco for a full day of testing. They would be testing more blood, urine, my veins, my heart, and take x-rays. She also explained that I would undergo a type of psych evaluation, I didn’t think much of it. We scheduled for the first week in February of 2017.
I flew alone to San Francisco for the second phase of tests. I had never been there before, but the view of the city from the Connie Frank Transplant Center is unforgettable. The day went by fast until I was evaluated by a social worker and a psychologist. I felt as if they asked questions no one would dare ask. They dug deeper into my past than I felt necessary. They wanted to know who my best friend was, my relationship with my brother, who my caregiver would be for the surgery, how I would feel if my brother’s body rejected my kidney, and many other questions regarding how I would react. They were then aware of my divorce, my unstable relationship with my ex-husband, my recent move to my mother’s house, and that I was starting a new job. I felt defeated and judged, but I left with a smile and hoped for the best. They had to present my ‘case’ to a panel and approve or deny my desire to donate my kidney.
Weeks passed, and it was now March. My ex-husband (who had previously agreed to be my caregiver) and I had another argument. This time he decided to contact UCSF and let them know he would not be able to help me during recovery. My social worker that was assisting me in our case called me shortly after. She let me know that due to my new job, new living arrangements, and lack of a caregiver, the panel decided to deny me. She gave me the option to wait 12 months and try again. I begged and pleaded and asked what other options I had to save my brother’s life. There was no other option for me. I had to maintain a steady lifestyle.
My new job was as a personal assistant for David Copperfield. It was the best experience of my life. They were aware I wanted to donate my Kidney and aware I was denied but wanted to keep trying. For the remainder of 2017 I contacted the social worker at UCSF monthly. I let her know about how my job was, how my children were doing, how I started a new relationship, and how happy I finally was. I met my current boyfriend of over a year while working with David. He knew from the start I was a single mom living with my mom, recently divorced, recently depressed, and recently denied of being able to do something I wanted most. Antonio helped me find true happiness and become the best version of me. He taught me how to love myself and he’s always shown me pure love.
I was determined to donate my kidney to my brother. I couldn’t bear to know he couldn’t travel because he’s stuck to this machine that cleans his blood. He needed this machine to help him stay alive. I wanted to be able to give him the chance to marry his girlfriend Autumn and go on a honeymoon. I wanted him to come visit me in Las Vegas. 44 is too young to be condemned to your bed and bathroom.
After 9 months of persistently calling the social worker to update her on my life, she gave in. She gave me the approval to test again and begin the process early to donate. It’s now January of 2018 and I’ve never been more ready in my life. I’ve had an entire year to read about Kidney Disease and being a living kidney donor. I’ve watched every YouTube video possible on the surgery and recovery for both the donor and recipient. I began the testing and started doing more bloodwork. The call came again, finally, ‘your tests came back perfect, you’re going to be able to donate a kidney to save your brother’s life!’ I was at work when it happened. I was working then in a corporation that owns roughly 10 casinos and hotels around Las Vegas. I walked into my Director’s office after the phone call with tears in my eyes and told her I was finally approved. They had hired me on the terms I would be able to take time off of work for 6-8 weeks for the surgery and recovery. I couldn’t wait to tell my brother.
I texted my brother and Autumn letting them know the amazing news. Autumn responded instantly, but my brother didn’t text back until days later. I thought then that I did something wrong. Was he ignoring me on purpose? Did my text go through? Should I just call him? Autumn and I spoke about it and we came to the conclusion that my brother didn’t want to have the transplant right away. The timing wasn’t right. We decided on postponing the transplant until June. His daughter (my niece) had directed and will perform in a Philippine Cultural spectacular for her University in Riverside in April. At the end of May, his son (my nephew) was graduating High School and having a graduation party.
It was only weeks away from surgery and I started having trouble with my job. My director claimed she couldn’t give me the time off of work because they don’t offer ‘leaves of absence.’ Human resources kept sending me back to my director saying that only my director could approve my time off. I was frustrated and stressed out not knowing whether or not I would have a job to return to once I was fully recovered. I finally was able to speak to someone in Human Resources who found a loophole and my time off would be considered approved under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It took weeks, but once my paperwork was in and my time off was considered approved, I finally felt a huge sense of relief. I took my leave at the end of May. I watched my nephew graduate. We had a family reunion at his graduation party. I was surrounded by so much love.
The days leading up to the surgery went by fast. Antonio and I drove to San Francisco with my brother, Autumn, and my niece. The day before surgery my brother and I had to go in to UCSF for pre-op testing. There were blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, and an EKG. We were required to fast after lunch and could only have liquids, it was rough, and I was starving. We had broth for dinner while Antonio, Autumn, and Mei-Lien had large bowls of ramen. Back in the hotel room that evening, I took a photo of my brother setting up for his last night of dialysis. I was so relieved. The day I’d been waiting two years for was finally here.
We had an early surgery time and were at the hospital before the sun came up. After changing into our hospital gowns and socks there were nurses and doctors coming in one after the other to speak to us. My nurse came in and said it was time, and I asked to take a photo with our beds next to each other before they took me away. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t hesitant, I was ready. My brother took my hand to hold for the photo and when I looked up into his eyes I saw he was tearing. He said, ‘thank you, sis’ and I instantly started crying. That was the moment I knew this is what I’m here for. I’ve never been so sure about anything more in my life.
I woke up in a new room not remembering even falling asleep. I had pain and knew the surgery was over. I did it. I looked around and saw a nurse and instinctively begged ‘where is my brother?’ She said he was in recovery and was doing well, that he would be in his own room in a couple hours. The next few days in the hospital flew by. I don’t know how I would have been able to do that without Antonio’s help. He wouldn’t leave my side and I appreciate him dearly for every second. The nurses were amazing, genuine and truly cared. When I was finally able to walk to my brother’s room to say ‘hi’, he looked great and I wanted to cry again. The doctors would tell him and I multiple times how great my kidney was and how it’s improving his life.
It’s only been two weeks since the surgery. I still have some pain but it’s bearable. My brother lives in Fresno, CA and I live in Las Vegas, NV so our communication has been texting and FaceTime. We’re both still in recovery. We’re both struggling with pain. But Antonio and Autumn keep reminding us ‘pain is temporary.’ I never knew what to expect after being a live kidney donor. I still have no regrets and I feel a genuine sense of happiness knowing my brother’s life has been extended at least another 20 years. I hope to inspire others to save a life by giving the gift of life. No one is worthless, no one is a mistake, we’re all here for a reason.”