Thomas Freeman - 21

Thomas and Stephanie FreemanStephanie and Thomas Freeman

"I had two kidney diseases that I was diagnosed with about nine years ago. I was going to a doctor in Tuscaloosa who discovered the diseases. My kidneys actually kind of rebounded at one point. I was on several different medicines, which helped them improve a little bit. I was doing my daily activities and going to work.

"My kidneys actually stayed normal for about five to six years. But the doctor told me I could have a relapse at any time, and sure enough, I did. And this time they never rebounded. They kept going down.

"I noticed several things were wrong with me and went back to the doctor, and they told me they were failing. I started to go to the dialysis clinic. I went on dialysis a little more than two years ago.

"I was very active, and that’s what made dialysis so hard on me. To be honest, I felt guilty because of my kids. We were always doing something, whether it was going to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, going to the zoo or taking a weekend trip somewhere — we were always doing something. Being hooked to that machine took away a lot of those quick road trips and things we liked to do. If we tried to do a trip, I’d have to load the machine and carry all of those bags. I just felt guilty because the kids wanted to go do things, and I just could do it.

"And then the physical part of it; I was sleepy all the time. It had gotten to the point where I wanted to sleep 24 hours. I just couldn’t get enough sleep. That was horrible for me. I just couldn’t understand how someone like me, who liked to do stuff all the time, could feel that way. All I was focused on was lying down and going to sleep. It was bad.

"When UAB called and said we were on the list, I was excited.

"The crazy thing was, when we were going through orientation, they told us that the donor-swap program averaged around 12 months to get a match. They called us about a week-and-a-half later. It shocked me.

"Now after the transplant, every now and then I will get tired and lay down, but I think that’s part of the healing process, because my energy is definitely back. I can tell a huge difference already. I don’t want to lay down all of the time. I want to get out and go do things again. I can definitely see a difference.

"As far as the chain goes, I don’t know how to put the chain into words. It’s amazing. The fact that so many people have an opportunity now to change their lives is just unreal. I know it’s going to change my family’s life. To be part of the chain, for me to be in something like this, it’s exciting and unbelievable at the same time.

"I was very pleased with the care I received at UAB. Everybody was really nice to us and very professional. And we’ve told a lot of people, whether it’s through Facebook or word of mouth, about the opportunity the paired kidney chain at UAB has given to us. It’s giving me a chance to live my life again." 

Celebrating the nation's longest kidney chain

High-tech medicine and human kindness combine in UAB's ongoing kidney chain, a series of transplant surgeries that have given 101 people so far a new lease on life. The chain is the nation's longest ever.

The kidney chain has been kept going by many remarkable acts of sacrifice, and has revealed many moving stories of determination. Tyler Williamson went to TEDx Birmingham’s 2017 event in March expecting to be inspired and to network and make new connections with fellow attendees. What the 27-year-old did not anticipate was that inspiration would lead him to volunteer to become a living kidney donor just seven months later. See his story in this video:

In their words, stories from our transplant donors and recipients.

Kendra BrooksKendra Brooks. After more than four years of dialysis treatments, Kendra Brooks received her transplant in April 2016. Kendra’s mom donated a kidney so her daughter could receive one and wrote a letter to share the news. “It said, ‘God has answered our prayers. We have a match.’ I cried puddles of tears of joy,” Kendra says. Learn more about Kendra.

sheldon vaughn webSheldon Vaughn. High blood pressure and diabetes ravaged Sheldon Vaughn’s kidneys, and it was the kindness of two donors who helped him achieve a transplant. “A dialysis nurse my wife and I came to know wanted to donate to me, but wasn’t a match for me, and her kidney went to a woman in Florida. But because of her donation, I was able go on the UAB list and received my kidney from a young woman named Nicole who had contacted UAB and wanted to donate her kidney to anybody. So in a sense, I feel like I have two donors.” Learn more about Sheldon.

laura burks w Laura Burks. With a desire to help others, Laura Burks was looking for her next opportunity when a friend posted on her blog about how she was going to donate a kidney. “I thought, ‘That is what I need to do,’ Laura says. “Before that, I didn’t know you could be a loving donor. I thought it was something that happens after you pass away. After realizing that I could give away an organ that I don’t have to have to live with, I thought, ‘If I don’t do this, my life’s not complete.’ I just knew somebody needed a kidney and they’re depending on some stranger to give up theirs, and I was that stranger. Learn more about Laura.

William Harris w William Harris. High blood pressure caused William Harris’ kidneys to fail, and he was told he would eventually need a kidney transplant to live. After nine years of dialysis treatments, his wish came true. “When I was told I was a candidate to get a transplant, and that there was a match for me, I didn’t have any fears,” William says. “I was humbled to know that someone wanted to give me a kidney.” Learn more about William.

Become a part of the chain

Donate a kidney 
If you would like to donate to someone in need of a transplant, begin by filling out this form. You can learn more about kidney transplantation at UAB here.  

Get on the list
If you are in need of a kidney transplant, you will need a referral from your nephrologist. Your doctor can get all the details here.

Give a gift
Support the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute with a donation online .


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UAB Kidney Chain news

kidney chain 100 graphic kc siteNation’s longest single-site kidney chain reaches 100

To date, 101 living donors have changed the lives of 101 recipients as part of the nation’s longest ongoing single-center paired kidney transplant chain.


kc baseball thumbUAB baseball team helps Mississippi family cope with loss of father, husband

Young boy loses his dad, but finds many father figures on UAB's baseball team.


div kcFrom transplant lab worker to donor, employee becomes part of UAB’s world-record kidney chain

Divyank Saini is a UAB lab technologist and one of 17 employees who work behind the scenes at UAB Hospital to bring hope to those waiting on heart, lung, kidney, liver and other transplants. Saini made a decision that he wanted to do more than just his important work of interpreting lab samples to find the right matches. He decided to become a living donor and is UAB Kidney Chain donor No. 57. 


chalice kc2Science, generosity save lives in UAB Kidney Chain

Meet a family bound not by blood or name, but by their kidneys in the world’s longest living-donor kidney transplant chain. Discover how science and human kindness come together to save lives.


kc surgeryIncompatible, yet needed: What are incompatible kidney transplants? And why are they done?

The human body is primed to identify and destroy invaders like viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that can bring illness or death. Cells of the immune system and the antibodies they make recognize such foreign bodies and act to remove and destroy them. This defense system is a potential problem for kidney transplants. People have different blood groups and different human leukocyte antigens that can provoke an attack if a tissue, such as a kidney, or blood is transferred from one person to another. These two barriers are called blood group incompatibility and tissue (or histo-) incompatibility. A kidney transplant team uses the histocompatibility and blood bank testing laboratories to determine whether the tissues and blood group of a volunteer living kidney donor and the intended recipient match. A match is good, but matches are not always possible.


Jerry Phillips kcCommunity of the South: Donors help stretch UAB Kidney Chain to record 51 transplants

Fifty-first transplant means 102 total surgeries have been performed since December 2013 as the nation’s longest-ever chain continues to grow.


thompson kcNation’s longest kidney transplant chain reaches 34

The UAB kidney chain, which began December 2013 and expects more transplants in January 2015, ‘showcases the power of the human spirit in every aspect.’


nightline kcNation’s largest single-site kidney transplant chain underway at UAB

Since December, 21 living donor kidney transplants that have taken place at UAB are connected as donors “pay it forward” for a recipient to keep the chain going, and more transplants are scheduled for July.


locke press conferenceSnow can’t stop the Southeast’s largest kidney transplant chain at UAB

The unexpected 2014 snowstorm that crippled the Southeast did not deter the transplant team at UAB from continuing the largest nondirected donor chain ever performed at a single center in the Southeast. 


1080px UPDATE Kidney map 2018

The kidney chain has brought donors and recipients to UAB from across the eastern United States and as far away as Oregon.

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Learn more

dr locke video

UAB transplant surgeon Jayme Locke, M.D., and transplant nephrologist Vineeta Kumar, M.D., discuss living kidney donation and paired-kidney exchange in a series of videos on UAB's MD Learning Channel.