Collin DeGonzaque was born with a birth defect affecting his urinary tract. He had his first surgery when he was 2 months old, and more than a dozen others have since followed.
His most recent operation took place last month: The 15-year-old New Yorker underwent a kidney transplant thanks to a living donor, his big brother.
Both boys knew for years a transplant would eventually be the only option for Collin, who otherwise would have had to start dialysis. His severely damaged kidneys forced him to use a catheter since the age of 3. More recently, he's had to follow a restrictive, bland diet, and a rigorous daily regimen of pills.
“I could see how it was affecting him. Being a teenager, he just wants to be a normal kid,” Wesley DeGonzaque, 19, said of his brother.
Earlier this year, Wesley volunteered to get tested as a donor for Collin and learned he was a perfect match.
“I saw my opportunity to make his life easier and help him out, so I took it,” he told TODAY.
The transplant took place July 19 at a Syracuse, New York, hospital. The procedure went better than even doctors expected, said the boys’ mother, Jody Wilson.
“Everything went splendid,” she said. The second doctors put Wesley’s kidney into Collin, “it turned pink and it started working right away, as if it had never left Wesley’s body.”
Wilson said she initially found it difficult to accept Wesley's desire to donate a kidney to his brother.
“Because how are you OK with your other child putting himself in that position and sacrificing like that?” Wilson told TODAY. “We didn’t want him to feel like he had to.”
But Wesley was determined.
“He said, ‘There is no way I can’t not give him a kidney,’ so all I could do was support him,” she said.
Wesley and Collin have always shared a special bond, especially when they were much younger, their mother said.
“Wesley was like a little daddy. He used to take care of Collin and make him feel special,” Wilson said.
Though the two boys look nearly identical, their interests couldn’t be more different, especially as they became teens. Collin listened to alternative rock and played video games while Wesley preferred hip-hop and played basketball.
“They’re not super close and they don’t hang out every day, but they’re very close in that they understand each other more than anyone else,” Wilson said.
The boys live just blocks away from each other — Wesley with their mother and Collin with their dad — but see each other at least every other day.
“We are close but we were never special buddies before,” Wesley said. “But this was a chance for me to show him how much I cared about him without saying it.”
Collin agreed, describing what his brother did as more about their connection rather than the relationship they were born with.
“Mostly it goes to show what you would go through for someone you care about. Blood or not,” he told TODAY by email.
Collin’s recovery is going well, but “it’s still one step at a time,” his mother said. He is able to eat regular food now but still must limit his exposure to the general public until his immune system gets stronger.
But Collin said he has seen improvements.
“I live a little happier in general. I can eat more. I do see more of Wesley and I talk to him more,” he said. “I guess we are kind of bonded for life (considering) the fact part of him is now me.
“It was an amazing experience to go through. Pain and all. Just to end up here knowing who saved me and how much potential my future now has because of him.”