GILLETTE, Wyo. — On the morning of the surgery, Nate Delamotte was scared out of his mind.
Days before, he played it cool. Nerves didn’t start to kick in until he was dressed in a hospital gown, wheeled into a room and was minutes away from being cut open for the removal of one of his organs.
Nate’s niece, Javonni Delamotte, was in the bed next to him. Here he was, a grown man, a nervous wreck, lying next to his 20-year-old niece who had more reasons to be nervous. He decided to lighten the mood.
“You know, Javonni,” he said. “The first time you go to the bathroom, it’s going to be my pee.”
If he hadn’t kept it light that morning, Nate said he would have lost it.
His dad came in from Missouri. His mother, aunt and uncle were there, too. His brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Kim, the parents of his three nieces. His wife, Andrea. The whole family made the trip for the big day.
Forty-eight hours and five surgeries later, the entire family lined up at the foot of Nate’s bed.
“We don’t know how to tell you this,” his father said.
That’s when he lost it.
When Javonni was 6 months old, she was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a rare disease that attacks the filtering units in the kidneys.
Because of the disease, Javonni was on dialysis until she was 7. At about that time, a kidney became available from a child who had died.
Doctors knew that organ would only last so long. They put a 10-year limit on it. It ended up lasting 12 years. During the final year, the kidney began to hurt Javonni more than it helped her.
“I always talked about and joked that I would one day give her one of my kidneys,” Nate said. “When the time came around, I got pretty serious about it and kind of knew it was my time.”
About two years ago, doctors removed the old transplanted kidney and put Javonni on a dialysis machine that kept her alive.
Nate talked with Kim about it from time to time. The family, which lives in Milliken, Colorado, looked elsewhere for donors just in case Nate’s blood wasn’t a match for Javonni. Kim even thought to donate her own kidney, but Javonni didn’t want that.
“She didn’t want her mother down while she was down,” Kim said.
Fourteen months ago, Nate started taking the necessary steps to make sure he was not only physically able to donate an organ but emotionally and psychologically ready as well. Early in the process, Nate’s bloodwork came back. He was a match.
“The process was long and arduous,” Nate said. “It’s a series of blood tests, physical tests, mental tests. They want to make sure you’re a perfect match for the kidney, but also be mentally and physically able to give it.”
Nate completed most of his tests in Gillette and took two trips to Denver for the others. After all the lab results came back positive, he was given a date for the operation.
“Ever since my three nieces were born, they’ve meant everything to me,” Nate said. “I helped raise them, I’ve always been there for them, I would do anything for those girls.”
When the time came and the opportunity presented itself, Nate didn’t hesitate to help Javonni. Even when doctors told him that he could back out at any second, Nate knew his decision was final.
“The doctors told me that they could be rolling me around the operating room, setting me up in the ER and all I had to do was ask out of it,” he said. “But again, I’d do anything.”
Nate and Andrea have been married for about two years. He had a whole, healthy kidney — so healthy, he later learned, that during surgery doctors had to make his incision larger so they could get his oversized kidney out.
He didn’t have any outside worries to cloud his judgment. He had the mental capacity for the transplant and the physical signs telling him to do it.
It would be a new experience for him. He’d never spent a night in the hospital, much less been under the knife.
The kidney transplant and the aftermath would count for several firsts in Nate’s life, some he could have never expected.
After all the tests, a day before the trip to Denver in April he reflected on what it means for himself, his niece and his family.
“It’s almost mind-boggling to me,” he said. “It’s giving the gift of life. It’s a true blessing. She can’t live on the machine forever. That’s what the doctors told me, too. That I’m saving her life.”
Before the surgery, Nate said it made sense that he would be miserable after the operation and Javonni would be thriving.
The pain and discomfort would be transferred from an unhealthy body to a healthy one.
“My body won’t be used to the disruptions,” he said. “She’s scared just like I am, but I told her that we’re in this together.”
The night before the surgery, Javonni said she was more excited than nervous. She was ready to get off the machine, say goodbye to the sickness and migraines.
When he struggled to find the courage on the morning of the surgery, Nate was grateful that the staff at University Hospital in Denver put him and Javonni in the same room.
“When I was scared to death, I would look over to that bed and see my niece, and it would make it all OK,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
“Having Uncle Nate there helped me feel like I wasn’t alone,” Javonni said.
Kim whispered in Nate’s ear before he was wheeled away that she couldn’t thank him enough for saving her daughter.
Andrea made him promise something.
“You come back to me,” she said.
Surgeons told Nate to think of a vacation spot and go to it. In his mind, he didn’t even start looking up flights before he was out. He doesn’t even remember waking up, but through the haze, the first thing he said to his wife was, “I did it. I kept my promise.”
At one point during the surgery, however, Nate stopped breathing. Something wasn’t right. His oxygen was low and he was put in the ICU as a precaution.
At about midnight, Nate was wheeled to his inpatient room while Javonni was rushed to her second surgery of the day after a blood clot threatened the life of her new kidney.
The next morning, Javonni started bleeding internally because of the clot and her side began to swell.
It was time for the third surgery.
“She was clotting and they didn’t want her to clot the kidney off, so they gave her (medication) to keep her bleeding, so it wouldn’t clot the kidney,” Andrea said.
Instead of letting the internal bleeding worsen, doctors attached a balloon to Javonni’s abdomen. Cleaning up the balloon would be the fourth surgery in three days.
The doctor assigned to Javonni’s surgery said he had never witnessed four surgeries to one patient like that in his 27 years of practicing.
Then came the meeting at the foot of the bed.
“They all came in and said that Javonni is dying and the kidney is too,” Nate said. “My kidney and Javonni are dying? It was the worst emotional roller coaster.”
The decision was made to stop all the medication and the surgical procedures because it was slowly killing Javonni.
Nate not only let a crippling fear and sadness take him over, but anger as well.
“I said, ‘Then why did we even do this?'” he said.
Nate was an emotional wreck for the next several days. Postmortem depression set in, nervousness, anxiety. He didn’t sleep.
Four days after the surgeries, Nate finally was able to see Javonni. He told himself he wouldn’t break down in front of her.
He still had to be the rock, the lighthearted one.
Javonni put two of her uncle’s fingers in the palm of her hands, opened her eyes and was more alert than ever.
“We did it,” Nate told her. “You’re the strongest person I know. You’re going to beat this.”
The recovery ended up taking longer for both Nate and Javonni.
After taking the trip to his grandmother’s in Greeley, Colorado, he realized that his loss of breath during surgery had caused the lower portions of his lungs to collapse and flood with fluid.
He was rushed to the ER back at University Hospital and dealt with pleurisy and pneumonia for another week.
Nate had to learn how to breathe again while his remaining kidney learned how to work alone.
Slowly but surely, Nate and Javonni both recovered, even using walkers together, making slow races of their exercises on the inpatient floor.
Nate’s getting better every day.
Javonni too. Her new kidney started at 19 percent functionality and is already at 60 percent.
“We noticed a difference as soon as she was able to come home and recover in her own house,” Kim said. “We were in the hospital for so long that she started to get cabin fever.”
“It feels good to be home,” Javonni said.
Collectively, the family is able to breathe easier now. Looking back at the hard road he and his niece had to walk, Nate said he has no regrets.
“It was the worst time I’ve ever had in my life,” Nate said. “But seeing Javonni doing well, I would do it again. Just for her.”
There’s a hill with grass and gravel that leads to Nate and Andrea’s home in the Cedar Hills subdivision of Rozet.
“I take little walks,” Nate said, looking out a window at the hill. “We did half a hill today. We haven’t done the full hill yet.”
One day soon he’ll make it to the top of the hill, having already climbed mountains with his niece.
Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com