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Sharing siblings

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Sister gives kidney to ailing brother

By Nancy Kennedy

INVERNESS — Howard Chambers and his sister Sherrie Matthews believe siblings should share.

So, when Chambers needed a kidney, without a moment’s hesitation Matthews said, “Of course I’ll give you one of mine.”

On Nov. 15, that’s what she did.

“We’ve always been close,” Matthews said. 

Howard Chambers, 64, was born with only one kidney, although he didn’t find out until he was about 20 and got hurt while working on a silo in western New York.

At the hospital, doctors couldn’t find one of his kidneys on an X-ray and rushed him to another hospital in Erie, Penn., thinking it broke loose somehow.

When Chambers learned he only had one kidney, it was an oddity, but nothing to worry about since he was young. 

“When I was in my 30s and had to take a physical for a job, they saw that my creatine numbers were climbing, so we knew someday my kidney would quit,” he said. “It lasted another 30 years. I was probably 60 when they told me it was really failing.”

In 1996, Chambers’ had triple-bypass surgery, which revealed a cancerous mass growing on the back of his heart.

“I haven’t been too healthy,” he said.

A kidney transplant was always on the horizon, but because of his poor health — he also developed diabetes — the doctors said if he was put on the transplant waiting list for a donor kidney he probably would never get one. That’s when Matthews said he could have hers — she was a perfect match. For several years they played a waiting game.

Dec. 30, 2011, Chambers’ went in for surgery to have a dialysis fistula inserted so he could begin dialysis treatment when his kidney completely shut down.

However, transplant surgery was out of the question, because Chambers weighed too much. At 274 pounds, he needed to get down to 200 before his doctor would OK him for surgery.

So, he set about losing the weight. Three nights a week he went for dialysis treatment and followed a strict renal diet. During the day he rode his bicycle, averaging 100 miles a week, and played shuffleboard.

By his surgery date, Nov. 15, he weighed 202 pounds.

“I was determined,” he said.

“The whole family was at the waiting room at Tampa General,” said Deborah Chambers, Howard’s wife.

The only glitch was a tiny kidney stone the doctors found in Matthews’ donated kidney, which was removed. Both Chambers and his sister, with the companionship of their spouses, spent Thanksgiving recovering from their surgeries at a friend’s house in Tampa. They sat on the couch while their spouses cooked.

“Now all of a sudden he’s back to normal again, but it’s a different normal,” Mrs. Chambers said. “For so many months we had a different way of life.”

Now, Chambers’ blood pressure is normal and his diabetes is getting better. The doctor recently cleared him to ride his bike again. He’ll be taking anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life, but that’s OK because now he has a “rest of his life” to look forward to.

“We’re hoping for another 15 years,” he said. 

Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2927.