Woman finds kidney donor on Facebook

June 21, 2014
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Trista Thurston/Observer-Reporter
Heather Bobik, 32, of Washington, left, who suffers from chronic kidney disease, will undergo a transplant with a kidney donated by Brandy Willard, 35, of Washington, far right. The two met on Facebook through a mutual friend, Tara Searcy, also of Washington. Order a Print
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Trista Thurston/Observer-Reporter
Bobik undergoes daily in-home dialysis that consists of two six-hour treatments and a 12-hour treatment that is completed overnight while she sleeps. Order a Print
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Trista Thurston/Observer-Reporter
Bobik sits beside a table full of prescription medications as she explains her battle with chronic kidney disease. Bobik takes more than 30 pills a day and must follow a very restrictive diet. Order a Print

Heather Bobik wants to regain custody of her children, and Brandy Willard is going above and beyond to help make that happen.

Willard has offered to donate a kidney to Bobik after learning of the 32-year-old Washington woman’s longtime battle with chronic kidney disease through a mutual friend, Tara Searcy, on Facebook. Searcy went to high school with Willard, and she’s known Bobik for about 11 years.

“She deserves a life,” said Willard, 35, of Washington. “I’m excited for her. I don’t have children, but being sick and tired every day, she doesn’t deserve that.”

Bobik had 8 percent kidney function, the result, she said, of numerous infections, when she started dialysis 10 years ago.

For the past seven years, she’s been on in-home, round-the-clock dialysis, which causes side effects, such as headaches and fatigue, that often can be debilitating.

“Just doing my hair and makeup is a struggle for me,” Bobik said.

As a result, she was unable to care for her two children, now 13 and 11, and they moved to Fredericktown to live with their father.

“Not having her kids is hard on her,” said Searcy, who was with Bobik when she was told her kidneys were failing. “She tries to stay upbeat, and she’s more positive than I’ve seen anybody.”

The longest of Bobik’s three daily treatments lasts 12 hours, and is completed overnight while she sleeps. She is unable to hold a full-time job, but she does work part time when she feels well enough at the Waffle House.

When Willard started reading Bobik’s Facebook posts documenting her kidney failure several years ago, she didn’t think twice about donating a kidney, and Willard’s determination only intensified when she later learned she was considered a universal blood donor.

Bobik, however, was reluctant to undergo a kidney transplant – even after numerous attempts to find a matching cadaver kidney had failed

“I feel bad taking somebody else’s kidney,” Bobik said. “It was not the right time. I had to be in a better place for me. But she was persistent.”

Still, it wasn’t until Bobik was hospitalized with peritonitis that Willard’s persistence finally paid off.

“When she was in the hospital, I said, ‘You need to give me the information,’ and before I knew it,” Willard said, “I was getting poked and prodded.”

All tests have indicated that Willard is a perfect match, and by the end of July, Bobik should have a new kidney.

“Brandy was really gung-ho, even when we were waiting for a cadaver kidney,” Bobik said. “It can’t be worse than what it is now. I need to have some quality of life.”

Through the years, Bobik has had seven ports surgically inserted, either in her arm, chest or abdomen. Some were removed because of infections.

Plus, the tables in the living room of her Highland Terrace home are littered with bottles of prescription pills, of which she takes more than 30 per day.

Willard, who helps care for her father, said both she and her family are taking it all in stride.

“I’m not scared at all,” Willard said. “If I can make someone else’s life better … She’s such a good person. God gave me an extra kidney, and Heather needs one. I’m kind of look at it like paying it forward.”

That’s why she is expecting nothing in return.

“I’m don’t want to say we’re not friends,” Willard said, “but I don’t want her to think we have to hang out every day. She’ll have my kidney, so it will be like I’m with her every day anyway. But I didn’t want her to feel obligated to change her lifestyle. It’s just a chance for her to get up and not be sick.”

Even though both women will be hospitalized for just a short time after the transplant, the recovery process will be harder for Willard than it will be for Bobik. “I’m losing something, and she’s gaining something,” Willard said.

Doctors have told Bobik that she won’t realize just how sick she is until after the surgery because, she said, she doesn’t “remember what it feels like to feel good.”

Following surgery, Bobik wants no balloons or flowers; just Sarris candy and french fries with cheese, two of her favorite foods. She is not permitted to eat them because of her kidney disease. She also must avoid several other foods, such as tomatoes, milk products, nuts and watermelon, and she must constantly monitor her potassium and phospherous levels.

That’s good news for her husband, Julio Sanchez, as well. He’s been following his wife’s rather bland diet since the couple married three years ago.

And the other good news?

“It will be good not to see her drained anymore and see her motivated,” he said.

“I know,” Bobik said. “It will be a whole new life.”

Denise Bachman is an award-winning journalist and veteran of the Observer-Reporter. She joined the staff in 1981 as a sports writer after graduating from Penn State University with a degree in journalism. After working in various capacities, she has served as the managing editor of production and lifestyles editor for the past several years.

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