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Two dads joined by kidney; One grandson at the heart of the matter

IU Health University Hospital

Two dads joined by kidney; One grandson at the heart of the matter

One man was so motivated and inspired to donate his kidney, that he tried once and didn’t give up. Here’s the reason why.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

It was just the thing to do. That’s how Phillip “Bruno” Kern describes his decision to donate one of his kidneys.

“One family thought about another family. That was my inspiration. I thought I could give one to save one,” said Kern, 59. His inspiration started more than three years ago. Kern, of Jasper, Ind. stood by and watched as his grandson, River Harbin, then four, waited for a new heart.

“River endured many trials leading up to a heart transplant,” said his mother, Brittany Harbin. He was a patient at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health where he was treated for kidney failure, collapsed lungs, a massive stroke, brain bleeds and cardiac arrest. His life was supported with ECMO and 158 days on the Berlin Heart.

River spent the 2018 holiday season, his 4th birthday and Easter as an inpatient at Riley and received a heart transplant on May 29, 2019. He continues to have checkups every three months but otherwise is doing well, Harbin said.

About the same time her son received his new heart, Harbin’s father, Kern, decided to become a living kidney donor. Last year, he attempted to donate to one patient but it wasn’t meant to be.

Timing was everything. When Kern saw a Facebook post “Fishing for a Kidney” about another father and grandfather, Dean Schneider, needing a kidney, he felt this would be his recipient. The Facebook group was designed by one of Schneider’s biggest advocates, his daughter, Brooke Schneider.

Living donors work with a team of specialists including a surgeon, transplant nephrologist, anesthesiologist, transplant coordinator and living donor advocate, social worker, dietitian, pharmacist and financial coordinator. They undergo a number of tests to evaluate their health, and the compatibility of the match.

Schneider, 53, who was diagnosed with diabetes, began to experience kidney failure in 2015. He was getting close to dialysis and was lacking the energy to enjoy time with his two grandchildren, and his favorite hobby - bass fishing.

As his health declined, his community gathered around offering support through words of encouragement and fundraisers. In what some may think is a coincidence, that community was the same community where Kern lives - Jasper, Ind. In fact, Kern lives about a mile away from Schneider.

When he learned that Kern would be his living donor, Schneider said, “It was almost too good to be true. It was ironic that he was a 100 percent match.” Schneider has been friends with Kern’s younger brother and at one time, Kern worked with Schneider’s father.

On May 20, Kern was in one operating room and Schneider was in another at IU Health University Hospital. In the care of Dr. William Goggins, Schneider received a new kidney.

Under a social media post of the two men, Schneider’s daughter wrote: “Thanks to Phil Kern my kids get their pawpaw and I get my dad. Words can’t express our gratitude for his selflessness.”

Weeks later, both men said they are feeling healthy and very happy.

“Every time I talk to him, I tell him I don’t know how I could every repay him. All he wants is ‘thanks,’” said Schneider. He’s already looking forward to an annual fall fishing tournament in Alabama with his cousin.

And that’s all the thanks Kern needs.

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