A Stranger’s Gut Feeling Saves a Life

Kidney transplant recipient accepts an unexpected gift

Nate Estrella and Tim Saylor: Living Donor Saves a Stranger's Life

More than 150,000 people in the U.S. are living full and active lives with transplanted kidneys. Nate Estrella, 24, was one of those people – until he went into kidney failure for the second time.

Born with Alport syndrome, a rare inherited disease that damages the kidneys with the gradual buildup of scar tissue, Nate first went into kidney failure at age 16.

“My body just took over. I was really weak and tired all the time. It was like I was slowly dying and there was nothing I could do,” Nate said.

Fully recovered after a successful transplant from his father, Nate moved to the Kansas City area. He was referred to The Center for Transplantation and nephrologist Dennis Diederich, MD, for his ongoing care. Six short years later, Dr. Diederich discovered Nate’s body had taken over again – he needed to go on dialysis before his kidney failed.

Searching for a miracle

Dependent on dialysis to remove waste and filter his blood for the next three and a half years, Nate struggled to work and interact with his wife and new daughter. He was flooded with kidney donation offers from family, members of his church and even clients at the barbershop he owns and runs in Gardner, Kansas. However, due to the high levels of antibodies in his blood from the previous transplant – antibodies attack transplanted organs and can cause immediate rejection – no one was a suitable match. Desperate and frustrated, Nate’s wife, Erica, turned to social media. 

Knowing their situation from Facebook, Tim Saylor, 24, a childhood friend of Erica’s, paid special attention to one post. “One day Erica posted Nate’s blood type, which is my blood type. And I realized I have the chance to help someone. Why wouldn’t I?” Tim said. 

After months of debate and with the support of his fiancé, Tim was tested. Initial results showed he wasn’t a match. 

Spurred by a gut feeling, Tim asked if there was any other test to make sure. “I couldn’t believe I wasn’t a match. I truly felt there was a reason I knew about Nate, a reason I felt compelled to get tested,” Tim said.

Despite the minute chance of a different result, a genetic DNA test was conducted. Four days later, Tim’s gut was proven right. While Nate would need to undergo a special treatment called plasmapheresis – a process that filters the blood and removes harmful antibodies – prior to receiving Tim’s kidney, the doctors decided he was in fact a match. 

Gaining strength and friendships

On February 17, transplant surgeon Timothy Schmitt, MD, performed Nate’s second lifesaving kidney transplant. Thanks to the experienced surgeons at The University of Kansas Hospital, transplant patients often recover more quickly and get back to their lives sooner.   

Only a month after the transplant surgery and Tim couldn’t agree more. “Seeing Nate now is amazing. He’s moving around and can play with his daughter again.”

Once strangers, Nate and Tim now consider each other friends. Tim proposed to his fiancé, Jes, three days before surgery on Valentine’s Day. They plan to be married next summer. And Nate and Erica look forward to attending. They’re even talking about family vacations together.

“He’s like a family member now,” Nate said of Tim. “I know there has to be a God out there to put that belief in his heart. Not a lot of people would give a part of their body to a stranger. That right there is a miracle. It’s superhero stuff.”

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