This year, Thanksgiving is a holiday that has more meaning to Jean Austin, 62. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic making 2020 a year many would like to forget, Jean will be celebrating a year made possible thanks to a selfless act on love. But what makes the milestone even more meaningful is that her donor was her son Andrew.
Jean Austin-Danner was in her 30s when she was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetically inherited condition that causes cysts on the kidneys to grow and take over kidney tissue until the kidneys no longer function. Outside of periodic blood work and visits with a nephrologist, the Ormond Beach, Florida, resident says it didnâ€™t really affect her life.
Growing up, Jean’s youngest son, Andrew Austin, now 29, never realized his mom had a health condition that would ultimately alter the course of his life. â€œIt was a nonissue,â€� he says.
Then, in 2018, more than two-and-a-half decades after her diagnosis, Jeanâ€™s condition began to worsen. Andrew urged her to come to Mayo Clinic, where he was working in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Doctors told Jean sheâ€™d likely need to begin dialysis or undergo a kidney transplant.
The average wait time for a kidney from the national deceased donor waiting list in the U.S. is five years, but there was another option that her care team mentioned: an organ from a living donor.
And Andrew jumped. â€œI never thought twice about it,â€� he says. â€œI have a bond with my mom that I donâ€™t have with anyone else. I wanted to give my mom a chance to continue living life without the interference of dialysis.â€�
His mom, however, was a bit apprehensive. â€œI think donation in any form is one of the more profound gifts one person can give to another,” Jean says. “But as my son, I wanted him to be whole and healthy.â€�
But Andrew is nothing if not persuasive. â€œYou gave me two kidneys. The least I can do is give one back,â€� he says to his mother.
Eventually Jean agreed. â€œOnce I understood the significance to him of helping extend my life expectancy and quality, I realized I just needed to graciously accept the kidney,â€� she says.
On Nov. 26, 2019, she did just that.
While Andrewâ€™s kidney was accepted by his motherâ€™s body almost immediately, the psychological impact on both mother and son was more significant than either expected. â€œI have a deep sense of what an amazing gift my son gave me. The fact that someone chose to do this for me is an incredible honor,â€� says Jean.
And though COVID-19 and some unexpected complications put a damper on Jeanâ€™s plans for 2020, she and Andrew are finding opportunities to celebrate. The pair marked their recent birthdays together and will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the transplant on Thanksgiving together.
â€œI try to make each day count,â€� says Jean.