When Jarena Bates went into kidney failure last May, she knew she needed a miracle. Little did she know that it would come in the form of her fiancé, Tye Johnson, who proved his love for her in the most profound way possible.
Bates, smiling broadly and looking the picture of health, visited with TODAY co-host Matt Lauer one week after receiving a kidney — and the promise of a long and healthy life — from Johnson, who sat beside her, holding her hand.
“It brings us closer together than before,” said the 23-year-old Bates, who has been going with Johnson for four years.
“I feel like I’ve already taken our vows — ‘through sickness and health,’” said Johnson, 31.
Johnson and Bates are both from the St. Albans section of Queens, and in New York the wait to get a kidney averages from five to seven years for whites and seven years for people of color like Bates, who make up some 70 percent of the waiting list.
So when Bates, who has been on medication for kidney disease for a decade, learned her kidneys were failing, she faced the prospect of lengthy dialysis treatments several times a week until a kidney became available.
Her only hope was that one of her family members would be a match for her and be able to donate a kidney immediately. In July, she, her mother and her sister went to the hospital to be tested. Johnson volunteered as chauffeur.
“I was just the driver that drove them to the hospital so her mother and her sister could get tested,” Johnson said. There had been no plans for him to be tested, too, but when doctors determined that medical complications prevented her mother from being tested, he volunteered.
“I was the second person to get tested and right then and there, I was the match,” he said.
Lauer observed that it’s one thing to say you’d give a kidney to your beloved, but when you learn you’re a match, some people might have second thoughts.
“None whatsoever,” Johnson said.
Bates wasn’t so sure it was the best idea. “I had my doubts,” she admitted. “I didn’t want him to go through the pain he was going to have to go through.” She also worried about future complications for him.
Dr. Ernesto Molmenti performed the transplant on Oct. 15 at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, which had just begun a kidney transplant program. Bates was his first patient.
“Everything went absolutely great,” he said, explaining that Johnson’s kidney was removed through a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopy, and he left the hospital after a stay of a couple of days with no side effects. After his kidney was removed, it was taken to an adjoining operating room, where it was implanted in Bates.
“Her prognosis is excellent,” Molmenti said. “We have to keep a close eye on her, like we do all transplant patients. But she can have a normal life. She can have children in the future. She can continue with her normal activities.”
The couple had been planning a July 2008 wedding, but they’re thinking about postponing the date until Oct. 15 — the one-year anniversary of the day Johnson gave Bates a piece of himself and the promise of a full life together.
But Johnson doesn’t think what he did is extraordinary, telling Lauer, “That’s what I’m here for.”