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AU News

A Trojan Basketball Alum’s Transplant Journey

March 18, 2022
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Nikki Young’s father was going into kidney failure, but thanks to a special program, there was lifesaving help for him and another man.

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Thanksgiving Day has a special meaning for Nikki Young, a 2017 graduate from Taylors, South Carolina, who played on the Trojans Women’s Basketball Team. 

On the week of Thanksgiving 2021, her father, Dion Young, gained a new lease on life.

Like Nikki, Dion grew up an athlete. In fact, he was a top basketball player in his high school days and was often there to cheer on Nikki at her games. But recently his health was taking a turn for the worse. 

“His kidneys crashed pretty rapidly,” Nikki recalled. “We didn’t even know they were crashing at the time. We caught COVID around this time last year, so that’s how we found out. He didn’t pay attention to the signs of not going to the restrooms as regularly or him sleeping too long. At midday he would just go to sleep and he wouldn’t wake up. We didn’t know what that was until he actually caught COVID. All that opened up, so we had to move very fast with him only having a two percent functioning kidney.” 

Nikki and her siblings were tested for a potential match. No match was found, but thankfully that wasn’t the end of the story.

Through the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), Nikki found out about a young man who was a match for her kidney. 

“They mentioned a swap program for those who weren’t a direct match, which is what I fell into. That’s pretty much when you donate your kidney to someone in need and they actually have a family member or someone else on the list or a ‘Samaritan,’ in our case, who actually donates theirs as well. So you just give a kidney for a kidney, pretty much,” Nikki said. 

It turns out that another woman, Chelsey Machado, a nurse with Prisma Health, was a match for Dion. Surgery was scheduled for Thanksgiving week 2021 at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. 

While at the hospital, Nikki recalled, “At the very beginning it was definitely scary, walking those halls post surgery and seeing those on dialysis waiting. And we were able to have it happen so fast in his case. The process was very scary, but afterwards it was a huge relief—not having him go through doctor’s appointments and do all that dialysis and that taking a toll on his body. Seeing him do well now and doing the things he used to do is amazing.”

After graduating in 2017 with a degree in Kinesiology from the Anderson University College of Health Professions, Nikki went to J.L. Mann High School in Greenville to work with one of her former high school coaches. She then had an opportunity to return to her old high school to coach their girls basketball team at Eastside High School in Taylors. After the surgery, she had to take it easy, but her assistant coaches took up the slack. When she returned, the Eastside Eagles went on to finish their season strong with a string of wins and a trip to the playoffs.

Going through this experience and seeing her father’s return to a more normal life makes Nikki and her family strong believers in the living organ donor program. She encourages others to consider becoming donors.

“You don’t know the type of people you’ll be able to touch. For instance, in my situation they ask you after, do you want to meet the person who received your kidney? And I did. Most people just think about a person who’s receiving a kidney, but their families are also impacted,” Nikki said. “There was nothing but tears of joy, just like a burden was lifted off of their chest when I was actually able to save her son. So you definitely want to consider those types of things. It’s actually touched my entire family to where they’re considering being donors.”

Details about becoming a living kidney donor can be found at the National Kidney Foundation website.

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