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'It wasn't a hard decision': Dad donates kidney to teen son

Shannon Dobrucki felt helpless watching his son struggle with illness.
/ Source: TODAY

Over the past 10 years, Nolan Dobrucki has been through numerous treatments for severe aplastic anemia, which led to kidney failure and other complications. When it became clear Nolan, 15, needed a kidney transplant, dad Shannon Dobrucki, 45, was tested to see if he was a match. He was.

After years feeling helpless as he watched his son grapple with illness, Dobrucki felt happy he could help.

When Nolan Dobrucki was 5, his parents noticed that he had bruised on his neck and legs. That led to them learning he had a rare condition severe aplastic anemia, which eventually led to kidney failure. Courtesy the Dobrucki family

“Parents all say the same thing, right? We’ll do anything for our kids,” Dobrucki, a sales person from South Bend, Indiana, told TODAY Parents. “It wasn’t a hard decision.”

Rare illness and complications

The Dobruckis were at swim lessons when they noticed strange bruises dotting then-5-year-old Nolan's neck and legs.

“We did the normal parent thing where we asked if he was playing football in gym or roughhousing,” Dobrucki explained. “It got worse to the point where we were like obviously this isn’t your everyday normal kid bumping around.”

When Nolan Dobrucki was first diagnosed, he spent nearly an entire year in Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. While he has been on dialysis for nearly a decade, it soon became clear that a kidney transplant was his best option. Courtesy the Dobrucki family

Nolan visited several specialists and underwent loads of tests. At one point doctors thought he had leukemia. But they eventually diagnosed Nolan with severe aplastic anemia (SAA), which occurs when bone marrow doesn't produce enough blood cells for the body, according to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

After one of two therapies failed, Nolan needed a bone marrow transplant. But after that, he faced a serious complication.

“That’s where the kidney damage came from. Did we know at the time? No, no we really had no idea,” Dobrucki said. “They had told us his kidney was damaged, but they couldn’t tell us if it was forever or temporary.”

Needing dialysis meant that Nolan Dobrucki could never sleep over at a friend's house, stay up too late or even play baseball without worrying about whether his port was protected enough. Courtesy the Dobrucki family

At first Nolan’s kidney seemed to work well, but then it became clear this wasn’t going to last.

“The clock was ticking. Was it going to be 10 years? Five years? Two years,” Dorbrucki said. “That was the mystery we didn’t know.”

After that bone marrow transplant, in 2015, Nolan immediately started dialysis to help his kidneys, spending 51 weeks at Riley Children’s Hospital Indianapolis. Dialysis stopped for about a year because it seemed that his kidneys had recovered, but then he needed it again. This time, it was peritoneal dialysis, which he could do it at home while he slept. Dialysis required Nolan to have a port, which made it tough for him to enjoy normal teen stuff.

“I couldn’t really sleep over at my friend’s house,” Nolan told TODAY Parents. “With some things you would want to do, like if you want to go swimming, you have to tape (the port) up and playing baseball was a lot harder because you had to keep it secure.”

When Nolan Dobrucki was younger, he underwent a bone marrow transplant. After various complications, he needed a kidney transplant. Father, Shannon, felt grateful that he was a match and he could finally do something to help his ailing son. Courtesy the Dobrucki family

Soon it became clear that dialysis wasn’t enough. Nolan needed a transplant.

“I was nervous,” he said.

They lost a first kidney to someone else. Then, Nolan learned that his dad was a match.

“I was happy because then we knew there wouldn’t be a chance where we couldn’t find one,” Nolan said. “We could do it quick and get it over with.”

A new start

In August 2020 Dobrucki donated his kidney to his son. As the teen recovered, he noticed that he felt better.

“I had a lot more energy,” Nolan said. “It’s so much easier because you don’t have to worry about going to bed on time because dialysis takes eight hours to run.”

It's much easier to play right field when Nolan Dobrucki doesn't have to worry about whether his dialysis port is secure. He also likes that the kidney he got from his dad makes him feel more energetic that he had felt. Courtesy the Dobrucki family

If Nolan wants to stay up until 3 a.m., he now can. Baseball also became simpler, too, when he didn’t have to worry about his port. He does have to take anti-rejection medications diligently and remember to drink enough water. So far, the family feels thrilled with how Nolan is thriving.

“This is probably the best we’ve seen Nolan in quite some time,” Dobrucki said. “He’s doing very well.”

And, Dobrucki feels grateful he was finally able to help his son after watching him suffer for so long.

“It’s so unfair for a young person who has given up so much time being in the hospital and can’t do everything that everybody else does. The hardest part is just having to watch him go through that and there’s really nothing you can do,” he said. “Well, there was something that I could give to him finally.”