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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sister Gives Her Brother a Kidney, Saves His Life

Relationships between brothers and sisters can be special lifelong.  

“We’d always been close growing up,” Sherri said.

A Maryland resident, Sherri Lewis and her brother, Cuong Lewis share an extra special bond that unfolded after Cuong surprisingly found out that his kidneys were failing.

Cuong was living in Florida when severe cramps, mostly in his legs and lower back, demanded his undivided attention. The busy husband and father was working two full-time jobs and coaching a middle school baseball team at the time.

“I thought it [painful cramping] was just due to overworking myself, so I just kind of adapted to the pain,” he said.

But after five or six months of experiencing the issue nightly in 2013, Cuong headed to an urgent care. Muscle relaxers were prescribed after he was briefly examined and his blood was drawn.

Cuong Lewis (rear) looks in the direction of his sister, Sherri Lewis (front). Sherri donated a kidney to Cuong.
Photo credit:  Sherri Lewis

Cuong explained that he returned to work, but he received a call that he needed to return to urgent care. He was told that his kidney function was 14% that day.

“I still was oblivious. I asked, ‘What does that mean?’ he said.

 Cuong was informed that he would have to start dialysis. He noted that, at the time, he did not fully know what dialysis was. Cuong needed the treatment for removing waste, since his kidneys stopped working properly.

According to Cuong, the doctor wanted to find out how rapidly his kidney function was declining, so more blood was drawn after 48 hours.

“It was at 10% kidney function. It was a toxic situation,” Cuong added.

Cuong stated that a plan was put in place to pursue dialysis. A colonoscopy had already been scheduled within the week it was planned. But Cuong went through severe cramping the night before his colonoscopy, because he was required to drink ingredients that drained his body. His situation intensified.

“So, upon going to the emergency room, they immediately… rushed me to the third or fourth floor where they had a small dialysis room right there. Basically, they plugged in an exterior port in my chest that night and plugged me up to a dialysis machine,” Cuong explained.

Sherri’s older brother was in imminent need of a transplant. She stepped up to assist her brother.

When 10-15% of a person’s kidney function remains, dialysis is helpful. 

“At this stage, your kidneys are no longer able to keep you alive without some extra help. This is also known as end-stage kidney disease (ESKD). With kidney failure, dialysis is only able to do some of the work of healthy kidneys, but it is not a cure for kidney disease. With ESKD, you will need dialysis for the rest of your life or until you are able to get a kidney transplant,” according to information provided by the National Kidney Foundation.

Cuong’s dialysis treatment lasted approximately seven or eight months, but the next step to help Cuong was needed.

Sherri recalled events in 2014 when she flew from Maryland to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital to explore options of helping her dear brother. Since Cuong lives in a small town in the Florida Panhandle, he had to find and select a kidney transplant center location that was best for him. 

Sherri and her twin sister had to complete blood work and testing to find out if either of them would be a living kidney donor match. They were both a match to become donors. The in-person plan was for staff, psychiatrists and counselors to interview them as another part of the rigorous process to decide which sister would become the living kidney donor. 

“They want to make sure that you are prepared to handle things if things don’t go well and that there’s no other underlying issues,” Sherri explained.

She had to fly to Alabama twice because snowstorms interrupted the initial timeline. Sherri, who was the mother of small children, finally received a call from the transplant team informing her that she had been selected to donate a kidney to their brother.

“A few weeks later, I was in Birmingham for the transplant,” Sherri said.
The transplant was actually on March 19 in 2014. It all happened very, very quickly.”

Sherri took approximately eight weeks off from work after the procedure, when she was working as a reporter at Fox 5 DC. A photographer from her previous employer accompanied Sherri to document the entire surgery. After checkups, Sherri was permitted to fly back home. 

Cuong’s quality of life turned around. He reflected on his sister’s generous kidney donation.

“Point blank, she [Sherri] saved my life,” he said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in the position that I am now.” 

Learn more about registering to become an organ, eye and tissue donor in Maryland via  www.donatelifemaryland.org/how-to-register

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