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After losing 135 pounds, she gave her brother the gift of life

Kari Roberts transformed her own life by losing weight -- and saved her brother's life. She lost 135 pounds to be eligible as a kidney donor for her critically ill brother. 'I owe her everything,' he tells TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It took Kari Roberts two years to lose enough weight to be eligible to donate the kidney that might save her brother’s life. Her dedication may have saved both of them.

Back in September, Roberts and her brother, Tony Bolda, appeared on TODAY before their dual surgeries, hoping that all would turn out well.

Today, the brother and sister shared their celebration over the successful surgeries with the world.

“I feel great!” Bolda told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “It went perfect. I’m kidney disease free.”

Bolda’s still getting used to good health.

“I have no more eating restrictions – which I’ve taken full advantage of since I’ve been out of the hospital,” he said with a grin. “A little too much.”

“Well, ask Kari, she’ll tell you how to get back on board,” Guthrie replied.

The surgery didn’t come without a cost for Roberts, who got a tummy tuck at the same time as her kidney operation. “I didn’t imagine it was going to be a walk in the park,” she said. “But it was painful. “

Still, she said, “The outcome was worth all of that. It really feels good to see how good he feels.”

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 eventually doctors told him he should start looking for an organ donor if he wanted to survive.

Roberts never doubted that she would give up a kidney to save her brother’s life. But doctors feared that with her weight at more than 300 pounds, kidney donation surgery would be too dangerous. They wouldn't even test her to see if she was a match.

“We felt that it would be too risky for her at that point in time because her risk of developing Type II diabetes or kidney failure or both were quite high given that her weight was over 300 pounds,” said Dr. Yolanda Becker, director of the kidney and pancreas transplant programs at the University of Chicago.

But Roberts was undaunted. If the extra pounds were stopping her from saving her brother, she decided she’d do whatever it took to slim down. She stepped on a treadmill for the first time in her life, and got to work.

Two years and 135 pounds later, Roberts was tested to see if she was a match for her brother's kidney. When she got the good news she immediately rang up her brother.

Read more: She lost 135 pounds to save her brother's life

“When I called him he just kind of sat there,” Roberts told Snyderman. “He didn’t say anything for a while because he had been waiting. It was very emotional.”

On October 18th the brother and sister underwent surgery. Now they’re both celebrating his good health.

"I owe her everything," Bolda said. "I don't know how I'll ever be able to repay her."

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Bolda hopes their story will spark more kidney donations.

“People should consider it,” he said, his voice quivering with emotion. “There’s nothing more you can do for somebody than to give them a piece of yourself and save a life.”

Roberts agreed.

“You don’t need two kidneys and you can help somebody else,” she said. “The way it makes you feel inside is really worth all of it.”

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."