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They met as freshmen at an all-male school in Ohio. Years went by, they remained friends and when one needed a kidney, the other became his donor.
By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealthorg
The day before Luke Siekierski was scheduled to go in for his kidney transplant he was out bird hunting near his Clay City home. He was accompanied by one of his long-time friends Drew Stichter who was scheduled to accompany him to IU Health University Hospital the next day. Stichter was donating his kidney to his friend.
It was April 12, 2019 when Siekierski, 36, received his new kidney under the care of IU Health transplant surgeon Dr. William Goggins. But it was years earlier that Stichter had indicated his willingness to give his friend the gift of life.
Kidney disease was something familiar to the Siekierski family from Toledo, Ohio; Luke is the youngest of six children of the late Jerry Siekierski and his wife Jane. His older sister Natalie received a kidney transplant in 2013 and his father received a transplant in 2004. His brother Peter awaits a new kidney. All were diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder characterized by cysts that develop on the kidney interfering with the organ’s ability to filter wastes. Siekierski recently returned to IU Health University Hospital where his bad kidney was removed. He is under the care of Drs. Chandru Sundaram and Asif A. Sharfuddin. His transplant coordinators are Alisha Turner and Christine Molby.
“When my dad had his transplant, we knew I’d eventually need a transplant. Drew said then ‘when you’re ready, I want to be tested,” said Siekierski. It is the kind of friend Drew is. It also represents one of the principals that formed their friendship.
The friends first met as freshmen at St. John’s Jesuit High School & Academy in Toledo, Ohio. The all-male campus is home to about 850 students who learn early on the school’s motto: “Men for Others.” Students engage in theology classes and Christian service and are encouraged to “go forth and do more in the world.” They are encouraged to do everything to the best of their abilities to make the world a better place to live.
Over the years Siekierski had seen his long-time friend practice that motto – coming to his aid after a break up with a girlfriend, stepping up to help a stranger change a flat tire.
“He’s just like that. He’d stop what he was doing and help anyone. He was a standout,” said Siekierski. He remembers first meeting his friend in homeroom at St. John’s –the class was organized alphabetically. Stichter remembers the two playing football and other intramural sports together their freshman year. The friendship continued after the two graduated. Siekierski attended the University of Toledo and Stichter attended Purdue. Eventually Siekierski took a job in Clay City to work in agriculture and Stichter moved to Colorado where he worked in construction management and recently took a leap of faith into restaurant management.
“Luke’s and IU, Notre Dame and Chicago fan and I’m a Purdue grad and a Detroit fan so there has been a lot of back and forth over the years,” said Stichter. His friend raised labs and they both have hunting dogs that they enjoy taking out for sport. They’ve been to weddings and bachelor parties of mutual friends and Sierkierski has vacationed in Colorado.
As his health became poor, Siekierski said his breathing was labored. It was difficult to take in all the outdoor fun he enjoyed for years – hunting, camping and kayaking. His infected kidneys also slowed him down – weighing 13 pounds each.
When Siekierski was ready for his transplant, his friend tested and was a match.
“It's one of the ultimate selfless acts and it's not as bad as you think,” said Stichter. “We had wonderful support from donor coordinators, nurses, doctors, family and friends and I got to see firsthand what it’s like to help save a life which is the biggest high there is.”
Siekierski remained hospitalized for two weeks and says he is doing great since his recent nephrectomy.
“I’m fortunate to have come to IU Health,” said Siekierski. “After the transplant everyone was very attentive and assertive about follow ups and labs. Even when I went back members of the transplant team stopped by just to see how I’m doing.”