During the summer of 2012, Tom Bresnahan felt like he was living in a fog.
"I was tired all the time," says the 39-year-old Chicago police officer. "My head felt like it was full of water. Looking back, I don't know how I got up and went to work every day feeling like that."
Only since his new beginning has he been able to take stock of how bad his symptoms had gotten.
The symptoms — fatigue, achiness, sinus pain — progressed slowly over several years. "I would say, 'Oh, I'm getting old,'" Tom says. "Or doctors would think I had a sinus infection." By 2012, though, he was beginning to realize something else must be wrong.
That August, he made an appointment with Michele Bailey, DO, a primary care doctor at Rush, who ordered tests that revealed two things: Tom had Wegener's granulomatosis, a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. And this condition had blocked blood flow to his kidneys, which were failing.
Two new beginnings
"I got a call that Tom was in the hospital," remembers his younger brother, Liam Bresnahan. "The next day we found out he was going to need a new kidney." Liam, 34, knew right away that he wanted to give Tom one of his.
But there was one complication: Liam and his wife were expecting their second daughter — their own new beginning — in five months. "We thought, 'OK, how can we time the surgery around the baby?'" Liam says.
Their daughter was born in mid-January. The next month, surgeons at Rush removed one of Liam's kidneys and transplanted it into Tom's body. "When I woke up, I felt better immediately," Tom says. "I felt like a new person. It was amazing."
A new normal
Edward Hollinger Jr., MD, PhD, who performed Tom’s surgery, says that kind of immediate improvement is common in living donor transplants. "A kidney from a deceased donor can sometimes take longer to work, but with a living donor it tends to work well right away," Hollinger explains.
Tom and Liam still had to recover from their surgeries, each taking time off before returning to work. And Tom continues to take medicines to keep his Wegener's in check and prevent his body from rejecting his new kidney.
But new beginnings are giving way to a new normal. Liam's daughter turned one last month; Tom and his wife now take walks — which before would have been too tiring for him — and might even go on a celebratory vacation. "We're thinking about Europe," Tom says. "Or maybe Australia."
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