Cavin Stovell did not expect to get a second chance at a new kidney so soon after his first transplant failed eight months ago.
The 43-year-old’s rare AB blood type made it harder for a suitable donor to be found for him and he was temporarily taken off the waiting list for a new organ as he battled pneumonia.
But Mr Stovell got lucky and a live donor — an “amazingly selfless angel” — donated a kidney to help someone else, without any knowledge of who would receive it.
He said he “was in shock” after a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told him another kidney was available.
Mr Stovell added: “I was in a daze for a couple of hours.”
Type 1 diabetes was diagnosed in the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital orderly when he was a child and he was on dialysis for almost five years after suffering kidney failure.
Doctors from Brigham and Women’s who visited the island identified him as a suitable transplant candidate and in February he had double transplant surgery, receiving a new pancreas and kidney.
Both organs were from a young woman who had died and whose family donated them.
The pancreas transplant was a success, but his body soon rejected the kidney and he returned to Bermuda to restart dialysis sessions three times a week.
Mr Stovell became sick with a “really bad case of pneumonia” because of a weak immune system and was taken off the transplant waiting list while he finished a course of antibiotics.
He got the news that another kidney could be available while at his six-month post-surgery checkup at Brigham and Women’s.
Doctors had ordered extensive laboratory tests and Mr Stovell was struggling to provide enough blood.
He suggested to the nurse that they try another time, but she told him there was the chance of another kidney.
Mr Stovell said: “They had stuck me eight times. She said ‘we need the tissue testing’. I said ‘OK, let me try one more time’.
“They were able to get the blood and then, after that, she went into a bit more detail. She said ‘we knew this offer was coming and we knew we wanted to give it to you’.”
Anil Chandraker, medical director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Brigham and Women’s, explained that people sometimes make anonymous organ donations such as Mr Stovell’s second donor.
He said: “We get called by the National Kidney Registry and we have all of our lists here. The reason that’s offered to us is because we have had patients from our centre donate to the list.
“It’s almost like a payback.”
Dr Chandraker added: “Normally, it would take several years to get to the top of the list for the transplant. We were seeing Cavin and we became aware of this organ, which was the right blood group for him.
“In Cavin’s case, he was very fortunate because getting an AB organ is rare and can only be used for the AB recipients.
“Looking at it another way, a random living donor is around 95 to 97 per cent likely not to be an AB donor and getting an organ offer from the paired kidney exchange programme, without a defined donor, only happens once or twice a year in our programme.”
Dr Chandraker said: “We told Cavin that we had this organ ... he was really happy. At baseline, he’s a happy person. He is quite an optimistic type of person.”
He added: “Cavin is a young man who still works. The dialysis is four hours, three times a week. It’s like having a job. For someone to be on dialysis and work ... a lot of people find it very difficult. They feel very weak or tired.”
Mr Stovell had the second transplant on September 18.
His insurance covered his medical costs, but he has used up all his sick days at work and is on unpaid leave, so has launched a GoFundMe page with a $5,000 goal.
Mr Stovell said: “There are some days that I don’t feel as positive, but throughout this I have developed a strong faith in God. I am looking forward to the opportunity that this change will bring to the rest of my life.
“I could never have earned, nor ever could I come even close to be able to express my gratitude to both of my donors, not in a million years.”