Twin brothers find kidney matches in local mothers

Twin brothers find kidney matches in local mothers

Twin brothers Nick and Alex Peguero, of East Providence, third and fourth from left, have both received life-saving kidney donations. Nick, pictured here with fiancee Brittany Missildine and daughter Brielle, received his donation from Diane Gebhart, of Cranston, far left. Alex, pictured here with girlfriend Erin Taber, received his donation from Denise Gray, of Woonsocket, third from right, who was inspired in part by her twin sons, Jonathan and Patrick Gray, who are the same age as Nick and Alex. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)
‘It’s not as scary as people think’

EAST PROVIDENCE – After years of searching and several weeks of recovery, three local families from East Providence, Cranston, and Woonsocket now find themselves connected by more than friendship.

Alex and Nick Peguero are 28-year-old twin brothers living in East Providence who share a genetic kidney disease. After several years of complications, they are finally both off dialysis after receiving kidney donations from two local mothers, including one who was inspired to donate by her own twin sons.

The two brothers said they were first diagnosed at the age of 5 but didn’t realize the extent of their kidney problems until Nick got sick during a cruise in 2017.

“I was sick, but I thought it was seasickness,” he said.

Within three months, he had to start dialysis for his kidney disease. The typical wait-time for a kidney from a deceased donor is between three-and-a-half and four years, and some patients rely on dialysis for years before they make it to the top of the list.

Thankfully, Nick didn’t have to wait that long. The following September, he received a kidney transplant from Diane Gebhart of Cranston, who works with his mother, Luisa, at the Providence YMCA. Gebhart said she originally planned to donate to a different recipient, but got tested to see if she was a match for Nick when that donation fell through.

“I hadn’t told Luisa that I was going through the testing for Nick. I didn’t want her to be disappointed if I wasn’t a match,” said Gebhart, who has three sons of her own.

Nick’s surgery was successful, but two years later, his brother, Alex, had to start dialysis. Alex was on dialysis for close to two years before he found a match.

“It wasn’t that bad at the beginning, but towards the end of the first year, it was really bad,” he said.

Alex said the exhaustion was so hard he had to quit his job in food services at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital. Toward the end of his treatment, he underwent dialysis twice a day and stayed home most of the time.

During those years, his family was desperate to find him a match. His girlfriend, Erin Taber, and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Brittany Missildine, put ads on their cars looking for a kidney donor with blood type A or O. Taber said several people were tested, but no one was a match.

“They said the lines were flooded with calls, but nothing ever went through,” she said.

Then, in February of this year, Missildine shared the family’s story with WPRI 12 News. Denise Gray, a local mother from Woonsocket and former secretary at Globe Park School, was at home when she saw the story.

“I went to WPRI that morning to look at the weather, and of course it struck me, because 27-year-old twin,” she said.

Gray’s son, Jonathan, was diagnosed last July with myxoid liposarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer. He and his twin brother, Patrick, celebrated their 28th birthday in February, 19 days before Alex and Nick.

Gray said she’d never thought about kidney donation before, but as soon as she saw the story, she knew she had to donate. One of her twin sons was undergoing life-saving treatment, and another son, Patrick, was previously commended for saving a life by performing the Heimlich maneuver while serving in the U.S. Navy.

“I always thought, ‘How amazing, what an amazing feeling to save a life,’” she said.

Gray called Sarah Gibb, living donor coordinator at Rhode Island Hospital, to schedule a test. Within a few weeks, she learned she was a match for Alex, and the two underwent surgery on April 19.

Last Tuesday, after a successful recovery period, they met for the first time during one of their follow-up appointments.

“It was extremely exciting. I felt like he was kind of like one of my sons already,” said Gray.

Alex said it was exciting for him too, but for his mom, it was very emotional.

“She cried,” added Gray.

Alex said he still forgets sometimes that he doesn’t have to worry about dialysis. He said he’s looking forward to going back to the gym and swimming, something he couldn’t do while on dialysis due to the risk of infection.

“I look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘I don’t have that big catheter hanging from me no more.’ It’s the little things,” he said.

Post-donation, all three families are doing well. Nick and Missildine recently welcomed a baby girl, and Jonathan was cleared of cancer after months of treatment and surgery. Gebhart went on to inspire her husband, Paul, to also pursue kidney donation. Paul donated his kidney to a stranger who has since become a friend.

The three families said they wish more people understood the benefits of kidney donation and the overwhelming need for donors. Kidneys from living donors last five to 12 years longer on average than those from deceased donors, and most living donors go on to lead normal lives with few side effects.

“It’s not as scary as people think it is to donate. That’s the big picture that I think people need to get across,” Alex said.

Anyone interested in learning more about kidney donation can call Sarah Gibb at Rhode Island Hospital at 401-444-3091.

Writer’s note: In addition to being a wonderful mother, kidney donor and former secretary at Globe Park School, Denise Gray is also my aunt. We’re all very proud of her donation and glad to see that both her recipient, Alex, and my cousin, Jonathan, are now in recovery after a scary health period for them and their families.

Comments

What giving hearts these women have. I have had the opportunity to meet Denise and I congratulate her selflessness in this donation. What a wonderful gift!