The gift of life

Local man donates kidney to family member after golf course meeting

by Josh Lanier

Steve Reed poses with Jeni Connors. Reed and Connors are recuperating nicely after he recently donated a kidney to her.

It’s a golf story with one heck of a slice.

It was during a charity golf event last year that Steve Reed, 42, of Huntersville, decided he was going to donate a kidney to one of his wife’s relatives. Earlier that August day, Reed had bumped into his wife’s cousin, Greg Connors, on the golf course. Connors talked about how his wife Jeni was suffering through dialysis three times a week.

The kidney she’d received 15 years ago was starting to fail. She’d need a new kidney soon and everyone that had been tested so far wasn’t a match.

It barely took Reed the front nine to decide to help.

“I told him earlier that if he needed anything to let me know,” Reed said. “When I saw him an hour or so later I said, ‘Seriously, if there is anything at all I can do, I’ll do it.’ There was no doubt in my mind after that.”

Reed got tested at Carolinas Medical Center shortly after retuning to the area. It was a long process with several rounds of doctors and specialists to see if he was a match and able to give up the organ.

During that time, Reed and his wife Erin talked about the possibilities over long walks along the greenway that cuts through the trees near their Cedarfield home.

What if one of their two boys – Connor, 10, and Callahan, 8 – would someday need one of his kidneys for a transplant? What if he got sick? What if something went wrong during the surgery?

“My wife was completely on board through the whole process,” Reed said. “She took a more realist approach and helped me through it all … It became a spiritual journey for both of us.”

Throughout that spiritual journey, Jeni Connors awaited the results back home in upstate New York. It was a long wait as CMC examined the tests and passed the results to doctors in New York that, along with eventually performing the surgery, also dissected the test results. All the while, Connors spent three mornings a week away from her two young boys – Will, 8 and Luke, 5 – as she went in for physically exhausting rounds of dialysis – a process where blood is removed from the body, filtered and then returned.

“I think it was a frustrating process for everybody,” Connors said. “It was a long wait, wondering…”

Connors received a kidney in 1996 while in college at Alfred University. She suffered from a rare autoimmune disorder called Goodpastures that attacks the kidneys and lungs. Doctors were able to save her lungs but her kidneys were shot.

She received a donor kidney from a cadaver, but it began to fail last year.

Several of her friends and family members soon stepped up to be tested but no one was a match.

About a month after the golf course meeting, the initial test results were in: Reed was a match. Doctors wouldn’t sign off on the surgery until several more tests were completed, though.

“It was this amazing thing,” Reed said. “Test after test after test came back good. We felt like we were guided through this process.”

Three weeks ago, Reed donated his kidney to Connors at Strong Memorial Hospital in New York.

They’re recuperating nicely and as doctors expected. Reed hopes to return full time to his job as Carolina Panthers beat reporter for the Gaston Gazette soon. He hopes to run his third marathon in the near future.

Connors is glad to be able to play with her kids more often.

Reed said the outpouring of support of his family and friends in the community has been overwhelming.

“I think someone has brought us food every night since I got back,” he said. “We’re probably set for dinner for the next couple of weeks.”

He tears up when he talks about how people have been so generous to his family since the surgery. But Reed doesn’t really like the spotlight.

“I prefer to be on the other side of these things,” he said. “I’m more comfortable giving than receiving, I think.”

He hopes his gesture will be a life lesson for his kids.

“We want to bring our sons up the right way,” he said. “I want them to know this is the way you’re supposed to lead your life. This is what you should do for people. I really hope that resonates with them.”

The donation might even help Reed’s golf game.

“Who knows,” he joked, “maybe Greg (Connors) will shave a few strokes off of my score next time we play golf.”

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