The 40th birthday isn't a happy milestone for everyone.
But for Jason Belinski, it was a wonderful reminder of the new life he'd been given by a total stranger six months before.
On January 31, Yale-New Haven Hospital surgeon Peter Yoo, MD, transplanted a donor kidney into the Shelton man, who suffered from focal glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a rare condition that causes kidney scarring.
In 2010, Jason had been feeling sluggish, but attributed it to working 60 hours a week as a night custodian at Fairfield schools. He reduced his hours, but was still fatigued, and had frequent headaches and hot and cold spells. He finally went to his primary care physician, and after multiple tests and consultation with a nephrologist, learned he had FSGS.
"I was shocked," Jason said.
When his kidney function dropped to 10 percent, Jason was forced to undergo dialysis for three hours a day, three times a week.
"At first I hated every minute of it," he said. "I was 38. I was young, and I had to be hooked up to this machine if I wanted to keep on living."
As a U.S. Marine, Jason has learned to overcome significant challenges, and he eventually accepted his situation. For 13 months, he continued dialysis and waited for a donor kidney – along with more than 90,000 people nationwide on the transplant waiting list. His mother, Heather Meyernick, had joined the donor list but was not a match for Jason.
In December 2012, Yale-New Haven's Transplantation Center called Jason with great news: They had found a donor in Connecticut resident Tasha Tucker, who had signed up for the donor list in the hopes of donating a kidney to her mother, Gloria Jones.
Transplantation Center staff discovered that while Tasha was not a match for her mother, she was a perfect match for Jason. Amazingly, Jason's mother, Heather, was a perfect match for Gloria.
During a four-hour operation, Yale-New Haven surgeons transplanted Tasha's kidney into Jason and Heather's kidney into Gloria.
These "kidney paired donations" (KPDs) are becoming more common, said Peter Schulam, MD, PhD, YNHH chief of Urology, who removed Tucker's kidney. Schulam has participated in a number of KPDs throughout his career, including two at YNHH.
"The transplant waiting list is still extremely long, but KPDs are helping," Dr. Schulam said. "Most healthy people can donate a kidney without any adverse effects, and that donation – whether to a loved one or stranger – can transform the recipient's life."
Nearly a year later, everyone involved the transplant is doing well. Jason is still overwhelmed by Tasha's and his mother's "selfless acts" and he encourages others to follow their example.
"There's no way I can repay Tasha," he said. "She gave me a healthy life."