Bob Tobiason and Bob Hayes have been buddies for more than 30 years — since they were boys growing up in Wilmington’s Albertson Park neighborhood. They married sisters. They both sell auto parts. When Tobiason, 42, learned he needed a kidney transplant, Hayes was the first to volunteer to be tested for a match, even though the two men are not related.
“We have always been like brothers,” says Hayes, 44. “As it turns out, I was such a good match for Bob that the people in the transplant program asked if we were related.”
Thanks to vast improvements in drugs that suppress organ rejection, the pool of live kidney donors has grown deeper, says S. John Swanson, M.D., chief of transplantation surgery at Christiana Care. “You don’t have to be a sibling — or even a blood relative,” Dr. Swanson says. “In fact, spouses make up one of the largest growing groups of donors.”
Dr. Swanson performed the first kidney transplant at Christiana Care on Jan. 15, 2007. Thirty-two people received organs and a new shot at life in 2011, including Tobiason, who returned to work six weeks after his May 11 surgery.
Hayes did not expect any reward beyond the good feeling for helping. But word of his generosity got around, and he received a special merit award from Cranston Heights Fire Company, where he is a volunteer, for saving a life by being a living kidney donor.
“Life threw me a curve ball — but I was able to hit it out of the park, thanks to my friend and the great team at Christiana Care,” Tobiason says.
Previously, Delaware patients had to go to Philadelphia or Baltimore for care. Dr. Swanson says some individuals who desperately needed a transplant opted not to get on the waiting list for a donor because they did not want to go out of state for treatment.
About one-third of transplant patients at Christiana Care receive a kidney from a living donor. There are significant advantages to live donation, including eliminating the wait for an organ from a deceased donor, which can take four years or longer.