(PH)OENIX – Feb. 14, 2020 – A Valley couple will celebrate an extra special Valentine’s Day this year after Carol Dahozy donated a life changing kidney to Wilson Dahozy Jr., her husband of nearly 50 years.
High school sweethearts, Wilson and Carol are now closer than ever. In December 2018, a year after Wilson received a lifesaving double lung transplant at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, Carol donated a kidney to Wilson.
“It’s something that I can’t explain,” Wilson, 70, said of his love for Carol. “It happens to only a few people. I’ve known my wife since we were kids. We were raised on the same reservation in Northern Arizona, and I’ve loved her all of my life.”
Wilson’s first organ transplant occurred in July 2017. After years of operating heavy equipment in coal mines, he was diagnosed in 2017 with pulmonary fibrosis – a disease in which lung tissue becomes irreversibly damaged and scarred. The Dahozys, who are originally from Window Rock but now live in Chandler, were told the condition has no cure and that the only option was lung transplantation.
“We didn’t really think it was a possibility until we met the doctors at St. Joseph’s,” Carol said about the couple’s first meeting with the team at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute. Norton is known for providing expert, lifesaving care to patients with severe and complex thoracic conditions. “He was only on the transplant list for three days,” she added.
Prior to transplant, however, Wilson became so critically ill that he entered respiratory failure twice and was placed on a type of lifesaving technology called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine. Although doctors performed a successful double lung transplant surgery, Wilson’s kidneys had suffered so much damage from the lack of oxygen that he needed to start dialysis.
After almost a year of dialysis, Wilson’s kidney function did not improve and he learned he would need a kidney transplant. The Dahozys were told that it could take up to five years for a donated kidney if he waited on the list, or they could start looking for a living donor.
“It wasn’t a question; it was automatic. He was my first love, the love of my life, and that has never changed,” said Carol, 65, a retired nurse. “I told Wilson I was going to get tested, and he was upset. He didn’t want me to risk my life to save his. But, the team at St. Joseph’s helped put us at ease again. We tried not to get our hopes too high, though, because the likelihood of me being a match was small.”
Carol was shopping for Wilson’s birthday party when she got the call informing her that she was a match.
“I was in shock at first,” Carol explained. “I waited until Wilson’s birthday party, with all of our kids and grandkids at the house to announce that my kidney was a match.”
Wilson added, “Everyone stood there silent, looking at each other, and then we all started crying.”
They scheduled surgery to take place as soon as possible and sat together at St. Joseph’s in pre-op on December 5, 2018.
“I started to get a little nervous,” said Carol, who was preparing not only to save her husband’s life, but also to undergo her very first surgery. “The surgeons and nurses were so kind. They were confident and friendly, and made sure we knew our operating rooms would be right across the hall from one another.”
Living donor transplants, like the Dahozys, were at a record high across the nation last year, totaling more than 7,300. Also in 2019, the United States had 23,401 kidney transplants—which are the most common for living donation. Arizona’s current waiting list for kidney transplantation is in the 1,000s.
“When a patient living with kidney failure receives a transplant, especially from a living donor, there are immediate results. The new kidney begins to remove toxins from the recipient’s body within hours and many other health complications that came from the kidney failure reverse or slow. The recipient’s recovery time is shortened; their energy returns; and they no longer need to schedule life around a dialysis machine,” said Brandi Krushelniski, RN, Vice President of transplant services at St. Joseph’s.
Carol said one of the hardest parts was waiting for an update from her son about Wilson, “When I woke up from the operation, the first thing I thought of was ‘how’s dad, how’s dad?’ The only thing I was concerned about was my husband.”
She learned that her kidney started working immediately once transplanted to Wilson. After Wilson spent a few days recovering in the ICU, they were reunited on the same hospital floor.
“None of this has been really easy, but Wilson has always been positive,” Carol said. “Together, we live on faith, and take everything one day at a time.”
With a new lease on life, Wilson said they both have a lot to be thankful for, especially each other.
“We don’t have any big plans. We’ll go to dinner. But, we cherish each other’s company and will be celebrating our family, our love, and all the little things in life that we sometimes took for granted before,” Wilson said about their first Valentine’s Day of the new decade.