Garrett Ramos: “I am very thankful.”

“I am very thankful and truly blessed to be able to have this transplant done. 

I will forever be grateful for Jerran and his family for this gift that they will be giving me. 

With this new kidney I will be able to feel like I am a normal kid again, and begin to plan my future of becoming a teacher.”

                       ~ Garrett 

Liz isn’t a fan of the chin hair Garrett is sporting these days.  And Garrett showed up to yesterday’s early morning blood test in typical teenage fashion; sleepy and a little grumpy.

But he soon warmed up with all of Jerran’s joking around, and the energy of two focused and hopeful parents.

I asked him how he was feeling about all of this. “Excited. Nervous for the surgery,” he said.

Recovery won’t be easy, but doctors seem very positive about how good he’ll start to feel after the initial recovery from surgery. They warned him to take all of his medication consistently, even if he feels great.

Did you know that when they transplant the kidney, they don’t remove the unhealthy one, and they put the new kidney in a totally different anatomical location? It will go in the front, where Garrett must protect it from excessive blows during sports and other activities.

He’s got a long but very hopeful road ahead!

Super-kidney donor

Jerran Higgins, our super-donor

Garrett and Jerran at UCSF Medical Center (February 24, 2015)

Well, folks, we’re happy to say that we can finally share with you the name of the donor who will be giving one of his healthy kidneys to Garrett in just a couple of weeks. Jerran Higgins is a long-time friend and coworker of Garrett’s dad, a husband, father of two, and brother. And he’s about to be a living kidney donor.

Years ago, Jerran and Garrett’s dad Gary played on a city league ice hockey team together. Their families got to know each other through ocassional team events, birthday parties and the Ramos kids’ football fundraisers. About seven years ago, Jerran went to work with Gary and the two continued their friendship over coffee breaks and work projects.

Last summer, Gary was progressing along the path to donate his kidney to Garrett, but some minor health issues disqualified him. He got the disappointing call from UCSF that he would not be able to donate while at a training with Jerran and a dozen other guys. 

Jerran’s immediate response? “What do I need to do to get tested?”

Jerran’s immediate response? “What do I need to do to get tested?”

Because Liz and Gary had counted on Gary being able to donate, they’d waved off other would-be donors. Still others had inquired but not yet followed through.

Jerran set things in motion, contacting University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF) to begin a months-long screening process. The tests were simple–blood draws, stool and urine samples that could be done at Kaiser Permanente, his care provider, or a local lab. Eventually, he went to UCSF for CT scans and other tests to ensure he and his kidneys are in the best possible health to secure a good outcome for both he and Garrett.

Donor Jerran Higgins making hospitals fun 

A few weeks ago, the match was confirmed, Jerran’s health deemed excellent, and the surgery was scheduled for March 10, 2015.

“I had a feeling before the first blood draw that I would be a match,” Jerran said. He wouldn’t get tested without seriously considering what it meant to donate. The only concern he had after discussing with his family was the off chance that down the road if something happened to his kids, he wouldn’t be able to donate to them. But his kids are healthy, and Jerran and his wife Mandi believe that you can’t hold out for something so unlikely and unknown. God will provide in that moment if it ever comes.

“I just have always had this feeling from the time I was young that I was meant to do something like this,” Jerran said.

Garrett Ramos gets his blood drawn for a final cross-match with his kidney donor

Like a confirmation, in the pre-operative appointment to do a final blood cross-match, and discuss the logistics of the upcoming surgery, the case nurse, Diane, said, “Jerran, you have a super-kidney!”

We all laughed. Maybe Jerran and Garrett would get super-kidney tattoos together. We would never hear the end of it from Jerran–how super his kidneys are. But it’s no joke. Jerran is just one of those people with extraordinarily high-functioning kidneys. The medical staff said that once he is left with one kidney, it will grow and take on the extra work–as anyone’s would–but his one kidney will literally do the work that most people’s two kidneys do. It will still be a big change to his body but he’s expected to live a totally normal life.

So what is Jerran like? He makes friends of everyone he meets, the more the merrier. And he makes a pre-operative visit a laugh fest for everyone with his irrevent jokes, teasing of staff, and self deprecating humor.

A few weeks ago, Jerran and Mandi were having a serious conversation in the kitchen about the possibility of the donation, except he kept saying “heart” instead of “kidney.” They kept laughing at his mistake, joking that he better double check right before he goes under: “It’s the kidney, right?”

“You can’t be a living heart donor,” Mandi later said, laughing, to Garrett’s dad, Gary.

“But Jerran would be the one to try,” Gary said.

Garrett’s dad, Gary Ramos, and donor Jerran Higgins in the UCSF Transplant Center waiting room.

You don’t have to have a super-kidney to be a super donor! Anyone with a healthy kidney can donate. 

Any healthy person can safely donate a kidney

Did you know that most of us have two kidneys, and when you donate one the other enlarges to take on the extra workload?

Any healthy person can safely donate a kidney.

View from UCSF exam room where lots of tests have led up to the care team’s decision to move forward with donation

The surgery itself is relatively simple for the donor. Granted, it’s major surgery and an organ you’re born with will be removed and placed in another person’s body — what? But for the donor, the procedure is mostly laparoscopic until the kidney is freed from it’s original home. Then a 3″ to 4″ incision is made on the bikini line and the kidney is removed. Recovery for the donor is similar to any surgery, four to six weeks of rest, no lifting more than 10 pounds, and that sort of thing. Yearly blood pressure checks are required, and it’s a good idea to check in on things annually to make sure everything is functioning well.

About Garrett Ramos


At 14, Garrett Ramos was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy, an immune system disorder that can result in kidney failure when met with a virus or bacterial infection.

He is the youngest of three boys in the Ramos family–a family thoroughly invested in the Fremont, Calif. community, where both parents grew up. Garrett’s older brothers, Justin and Trevor, both played football in high school and he was miraculously able to play as well, with some accommodations. The Ramos’ have poured into their schools, community and sports teams. Many of you reading this blog will have worked along side the Ramos family in one way or another.

Garrett, mom Liz, brother Trevor, dad Gary, and brother Justin at Trevor’s wedding last summer 

Now at 19, like others with IgA Nephropathy, Garrett’s increasing kidney failure has meant swelling in the hands and feet, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, and sleep problems. About 25 percent of adults with IgA nephropathy develop total kidney failure. Only 5 to 10 percent of children develop total kidney failure.

Garrett’s kidney damage is permanent and is currently managed through Peritoneal (stomach) dialysis. This means that because his kidneys aren’t able to do their job properly, Garrett spends up to 15 hours a day first on a manual dialysis to pump medication into his stomach, then on an automatic dialysis through the night to help flush the toxins normally handled by the kidneys through his system.

Garrett can live for many years with the aid of dialysis and other procedures, but his best hope for a quality life is a kidney transplant.

Despite his health challenges, Garrett attends classes at Ohlone College in Fremont most mornings before his dialysis begins. He hopes to be a teacher. Mom Liz reminds him that to be a teacher, you have to actually go to class.

We have a match!

After going far down the path with a number of potential donors, several of which were matches, we have finally found a match and nothing has disqualified them! It’s an incredible story that we’ll share  more about later this week. There is one last test result for which the donor is awaiting results, and then we will be cleared for a March 10 transplant surgery date.

The test is a triple check on an obscure fungus unique to the part of the U.S. that the donor is from. The transplant team at UCSF approved the case, but would just like to be extra cautious and check for this fungus, which can interfere with kidney function.

We all feel it will clear, but we want to make sure before we lay out the full story.

There have been months of tests for this donor. One of the things we’ve experienced with other potential donors is that the thoroughness of the screening can turn up issues they didn’t know they had.  It’s been disappointing to see other donors who so generously came forward then have to step back and address their own health issues. But with each set back, we have been grateful for a process that will result in better health for a few people.

A couple of weeks ago, we thought we might be there again. After hours of tests at UCSF for the current donor, physicians saw a spot on this person’s lung. They thought it could be Valley Fever, a virus associated with the agricultural community of California’s Central Valley. It wouldn’t pose a threat to the donor’s health, but would disqualify them from donating, so back to the lab for more donor blood draws. Within a couple of days, Valley Fever was ruled out and our case was approved, pending the fungus test.

Now we are making plans, booking hotel rooms near UCSF, scheduling time off work. The donor’s family is doing the same.

It’s coming together. It’s coming together, and we’re praying that every potential obstacle dissolve.