People try to slim down for a lot of reasons, but Kari Roberts may have one of the best -- losing weight has given her a chance to save her brother’s life.
Her brother, Tony Bolda, needed a new kidney to survive. But Roberts was told she wouldn’t even be considered as a kidney donor because she weighed 320 pounds. And that made her a poor candidate for surgery of any kind, much less one that involved donating a kidney, as her extra weight was straining her kidneys already.
Roberts’s brother was the one who broke the news to her.
“I told him I wanted to be tested and he informed me that they wouldn’t even consider me until I lost some weight,” Roberts told TODAY’s Ann Curry.
That was three years and 135 pounds ago.
Once Roberts realized that she would have to lose over 100 pounds before her brother’s doctors would even check to see if she was a potential donor match, she started a weight loss program.
It was a daunting task, but she knew she had to find a way. “I tried to stay hopeful and tried to stay motivated,” Roberts told Curry. “I mean, how terrible would I have felt if I couldn’t do this just because I was overweight?”
Bolda’s kidney problems were discovered six years ago when he was diagnosed with IgA Neuropathy, a condition in which a protein that normally fights infections begins to accumulate in the kidneys. “It can cause a slow process of kidney failure,” explained NBC Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman.
Bolda did OK for a while, but his family knew that eventually he’d need a new kidney.
“Three years ago things got worse,” Roberts said. “We were told we should start looking into [getting a kidney transplant]. That’s when I wanted to be tested. I was 320 pounds at the time and was told I wasn’t healthy enough. I am a busy working mom and couldn’t believe my weight had gotten so out of control.”
So she embarked on a diet and exercise regimen.
“I started off just eating healthier,” she told Curry. “I definitely cut out fatty foods, any high-sugared fattening sweets. I started walking a mile a day. And eventually started walking two miles a day. And then three miles a day. Now I do anywhere from three to six miles, three to five days a week.”
Once Roberts was at a healthy weight, doctors tested her and found she was the perfect match to donate a kidney. She and her brother hope to undergo surgery next week.
Bolda, obviously moved by his sister’s devotion, told Curry, “I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s amazing.”
In the end, Roberts’s weight loss efforts may pay off for both of them.
“In an interesting way, this has worked out so that two lives will have been saved,” Snyderman said. “A kidney life and a life that might have been shortened from obesity. So it’s really an extraordinary sort of double header.”
Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney. She is co-author of "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic."