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One kidney impacted 9 lives - including a newborn

IU Health University Hospital

One kidney impacted 9 lives - including a newborn

He needed a kidney, and he wasn’t alone. He was one of three people in need of a transplant. Here’s how this circle formed and included a father of two.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

There were several family members considering donation. In the end, it was an unknown living donor who gave Gage Foltz a new kidney. That kidney was the result of a paired donation.

A living kidney donor isn’t necessarily related to the recipient. Compatibility is based on blood type and tissue typing. Age and size are also taken into consideration. If a healthy donor is incompatible with the intended recipient, the donor may opt to become part of a “swap” or “paired donation.”

That’s how Foltz received his new kidney on March 25, 2021. But the story didn’t end there.

It was his sister-in-law, Cari Manny, who became a living donor. She also became part of a kidney chain. Her kidney went to another recipient. Foltz, in turn, received a kidney from another donor. In all, there were three donors and three recipients in the chain.

But the three living donors didn’t only impact the lives of three recipients. In the case of Foltz, the kidney transplant had a ripple effect. Foltz has been married to his high school sweetheart, Manny’s sister, Sarah, for six years. At the time of the transplant, they had one son, Levi, now 11.

In 2017, Foltz was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, also known as “Berger’s disease.” The kidney disease occurs when an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) builds up in the kidneys. Over time, the buildup leads to inflammation and can hamper the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the blood. In some cases, the disease can run in a family.

Foltz was on dialysis for three years. As family members began testing as a donor match, his brother was also diagnosed with IgA nephropathy. That’s when Manny began testing and the family learned about paired donation.

Both Manny and Foltz live in Fort Wayne. Initially, Foltz received care closer to home. He received his pre- and post-transplant care at IU Health University Hospital. Manny was also in the care of IU Health.

“When I made the decision to be a living donor, I didn’t really receive any pushback from my family. I said I wanted to donate and I had their support. We’re all so close. My sister is a year and 12 days older than me and I knew it was a necessity for Gage to have better health - as a brother, a husband, and a father,” said Manny, who returned to work two weeks after surgery.

Then something else happened in the family.

“I think the best part of our story is that after five years of my sister struggling with getting pregnant with their second child, they were able to get pregnant shortly after my brother-in-law received his new kidney,” said Manny. Gage and Sarah Foltz welcomed their second son, Elliott on July 7, 2022.

“We were ecstatic. It was like the story of my kidney transplant continued,” said Gage. He added that doctors thought the new kidney helped relieve some of the stress his body was facing pre-transplant and may have aided in the pregnancy.

His diagnosis and dialysis interrupted his career and Foltz now is a stay-at-home dad. He also spends time on house projects.

“I’m so grateful. It’s nice to go places with my family. Before my transplant, when we went on vacation I had to take my dialysis machine and even then I was stuck in the hotel,” said Foltz. Family trips to Disney, outings to the zoo, and spending time outdoors have become a new way of life for Foltz and his family.

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