More Than A Transplant, A New Friendship

Radio personality Bob Williams marks one year with a new kidney—with his donor.




 

Every April, we recognize National Donate Life Month, which is meant to encourage all Americans to register as an organ and tissue donor and to celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of donation. No one is happier to do that than Bob Williams.

Williams, the well-known traffic reporter for two local radio stations including 101.5 FM, celebrated the one-year anniversary of his lifesaving kidney transplant this past February. He celebrated, in fact, with the woman who gave him his new kidney, and that story is worth celebrating as well.

Williams has been living with Type 2 diabetes for years. It was well controlled until 2016, when the disease began to damage his kidney function. By 2018, his kidneys were so compromised that his doctors recommended he register for a transplant.

But there aren’t nearly enough people who agree to donate their organs after death to meet the demand. “The wait list was three to five years at that point,” says Williams, who lives in Roxbury with his wife, Kathleen. “My wife said I should look into finding a living donor.”

Living donation has been an option for many years, says Francis Weng, M.D., chief of the Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “We encourage transplant candidates to see if they have family members or friends interested in learning more about living donation.”

And the advantages are clear. “First and foremost, they can get a transplant right away. As soon as the donor and recipient are ready, we can schedule the operation in a few weeks, rather than wait several years,” Dr. Weng says. “Second, transplants from a living donor tend to last longer, and the kidney works right away 99 percent of the time, which is not so with deceased donation. Third, the living donor transplant is elective, so the recipient knows ahead of time when the operation will occur—they can plan for the operation. And finally, living donation even helps other people waiting for a kidney,” he says, because it frees up more organs from deceased donors.

Williams, however, was reluctant at first. “I said, ‘I can’t do that. I’d be embarrassed, mortified. Who would do that for me?’ But my wife said I had to. I wouldn’t make it without going on dialysis, and that worsens your health.” He relented, and in October 2018 his wife wrote and he posted the message on his Facebook page asking for help. “We had a lot of likes and shares, and about six or eight people came forward to inquire about it but were not qualified. I was humbled anyone would do that,” he says. But with no matches and his kidney function rapidly declining, he also grew despondent. “About six weeks after posting, I was losing hope of finding a donor. It was getting to a critical point where my doctor wanted to start dialysis,” he says. “Then the hospital called and said there was one more person being tested.”

This was on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The next day Williams was picking up some soup for Thanksgiving dinner when he ran into an old acquaintance, Kim Roumes. Their kids had played youth sports together, and they knew each other casually but hadn’t seen each other in about two years. “She looked at me stunned, her jaw dropped, and she said, ‘I have to talk to you.’” Roumes was the person being tested as his potential donor match.

“I had read the Facebook post that explained how sick Bob was, and [a living donation] was one of their last resorts,” says Roumes, a dental hygienist who lives in Succasunna with her husband, John. “I immediately clicked on the link in the post to Saint Barnabas Medical Center and filled out the application. Something in my heart told me it was the right thing to do. Bob is the most kind, caring, giving person, and I thought, ‘Why is it fair that I get to live my life to the fullest, see my kids grow, possibly [see my] grandchildren? Why can’t Bob have that as well?’”

Williams grabbed her in a big hug, then went to his car and began to cry. “That was God talking to me, reassuring me everything was going to be OK,” he says.

He was right. Roumes turned out to be a match, and she gifted him with her kidney in February 2019. Both donor and recipient recovered normally and are in excellent health. Perhaps best of all, they have become close friends. “Since the surgery we have become like family,” Roumes says. “We speak or text very often, we walk together, socialize together, and we celebrated one year together. I am so thankful I have Bob as my recipient because we have developed such a great relationship.”

“I see ourselves being close friends the rest of our lives,” Williams says. “I have been a Mets fan all my life, and now that I have a Yankee kidney in me I am rooting for two teams!” he laughs. “I don’t just love what she did for me, I love her. She is a very special person, and I am eternally grateful.”

To learn more about living donation, call Saint Barnabas Medical Center’s kidney transplant division at 1.888.409.4707 and to become a registered organ donor, visit registerme.org/SaintBarnabas.

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