Life lesson: Superintendent Title donates kidney to son
It was not a typical birthday present. It was, however, a very consequential one.
Four days before his 26th birthday, Russell Title’s father, David, better known to most Fairfield residents as the superintendent of the town’s public schools, donated a kidney to his son.
“He’s doing better than I am,” David Title said during a recent interview with the Fairfield Citizen, about four weeks after the father and son’s surgeries. “He’s got a lot of energy because he now has a functioning kidney.” The 58-year-old educator, meanwhile, is rebuilding his stamina now that he finds himself down one kidney.
Both Russell, and his brother, Jack, who died last year, were afflicted with Alport Syndrome, a genetic condition marked by hearing loss, vision problems and kidney disease. Because of that diagnosis, Title said the kidney function for both of his sons was monitored.
“One symptom is the deterioration of the kidneys, but that usually happens gradually,” Title said. Jack, he recalled, went from “pretty close to normal to no function in a matter of months.” Coupled with other complications, Jack was in and out of Yale-New Haven Hospital, and in April 2014 the 20-year-old died. “My wife spent every day at the hospital, starting in October,” Title said. “That was just the worst.”
It was then that he and his wife Laurie began having Russell’s kidney function tested on a monthly basis, and the search for a kidney donor began. Having the same blood type as his son, Title was designated as the “back up” donor, he said, but it started to become clear the transplant would be needed sooner, rather than later.
He said he was hoping to perhaps find a younger donor match, but Title said Russell’s doctors assured him he would get at least another 20 years from dad’s kidney.
What is Alport Syndrome?
Alport syndrome is a genetic condition characterized by kidney disease, hearing loss and eye abnormalities.
Alport syndrome occurs in approximately 1 in 50,000 newborns.
About 80 percent of cases are caused by mutations in the COL4A5 gene on the X chromosome. In males, who have only one X chromosome, one altered copy of the gene is enough to cause kidney failure.
In about 15 percent of the cases, the condition can be inherited if both parents each have one copy of the mutated gene.
On April 29, father and son checked into Yale-New Haven Hospital for the donation surgery. “They do it at the same time, I went in a little before him, about a half-hour,” Title said. “It typically takes two to four hours and you’ve got two sets of surgeons, two of everything and you’re in adjacent operating rooms.”
The process, Title said, is fascinating, Yale-New Haven is a national leader in kidney transplants, he added. “They do tremendous work,” he said. “Their success rate is really high.”
Wanting to shield both patients from the risk of infection, Title was sent home on May 1 and Russell was released from the hospital May 2. Russell celebrated his 26th birthday on May 3.
“It’s a pretty good birthday present,” Title said, and despite some pain from the surgery, “it’s totally worth it.”
It has been up to Laurie Title to manage the medications both father and son need. And she doesn’t mind one bit.
“It was all wonderful,” she said. “When you have something like this, when there’s a direction and a team in place and they know what to do,” it makes the surgery and recovery easier.
Laurie Title said there was no nervousness about the outcome as there was when Jack’s kidneys suddenly failed. “With Jack, there was no plan, no direction,” she said.
Now, she takes care of the two of them, as well as he housework, but “when you’re happy, there’s nothing to worry about and you have energy ... I have found this whole thing quite remarkable.”
It has been, Laurie Title said, “a happy story this time.”
Four weeks into recovery, Title said he has been a little antsy about getting back to work.
“He’s never taken a month off since I’ve known him,” Laurie Title said.
Russell has restrictions regarding his food, and being exposed to large crowds, but for Title, “It’s a matter of stamina. I go on walks and to the grocery store, but I can’t lift anything over five pounds.”
Fenway Park is off limits right now to the die-hard Red Sox fans, but Title said he and Russell have been cleared to attend a Bridgeport Bluefish game.
“I nap, I lay around,” Title said. “I can turn the sprinkler the on; right now I’m just focusing on stamina.”