U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

09/23/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/23/2023 14:49

VA employee to donate kidney to Navy Veteran

North Texas VA medical administrative officer Antrion Smith served 14 years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman including tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing Smith saw or experienced as a combat medic for Marines could prepare him for the life challenges in front of him.

In 2002 while still on active duty, Smith was diagnosed with stage 5 chronic kidney disease after an episode of heat exhaustion. There are five stages of chronic kidney disease. Stages are determined with blood and urine tests and the degree of kidney damage. Stage 5 chronic kidney disease means that your kidneys are severely damaged and have stopped doing their job to filter waste from your blood. Smith was living on borrowed time.

"I was just 24 when my physician gave me the cold, hard truth that I needed a kidney transplant. It was definitely a shock, and I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I wasn't about to go down without a fight," Smith said.

Worked hard to rewrite his future

After leaving the military, rather than yielding to the fear of a shortened life, Smith made up his mind he would work hard to rewrite his future.

Symptoms of early-stage kidney disease are mild and can be easily overlooked. Diabetes and high blood pressure are among the leading causes of kidney disease, and early diagnosis and management of coexisting conditions can help slow or prevent progression.

For Smith, being overweight at 278 pounds wasn't helping his efforts to slow down the disease. Simple lifestyle management choices helped Smith reestablish a daily routine like he practiced while in uniform.

"I swapped burgers for broccoli, sodas for water, and exercise became a daily routine for me post-military service," he shared.

Lost 116 pounds in eight months

In 2022, Smith took the next step on his wellness journey by having weight-loss surgery. When coupled with his new healthy habits, Smith lost 116 pounds in less than eight months. The weight loss and healthy changes improved and stabilized his kidney functions. Although these improvements temporarily eliminated the need for dialysis, Smith still needed a new kidney to enjoy a normal life.

Throughout his weight-loss and health issues, Smith shared his progress with his close VA coworkers who served as support system for his life journey. The bonds he made by sharing his battles and fears with this team are what will ultimately save and prolong his life.

"My coworker offered to donate a kidney. We got tested and unfortunately weren't compatible. But her spouse, who also works for VA, also got tested and we were a total, 100-percent match," Smith said.

Smith will receive his new kidney is less than two months. While he waits for the life-saving donation, he continues to build himself up physically and emotionally. He recently completed a 26-mile bicycle ride, something that would have been impossible just a few months ago.

"I hope that my challenges and journey will help fellow Veterans engage their health and develop a better mindset," he added.

From helping others to survive on the battlefield as a corpsman to serving his fellow Veterans at North Texas VA, Smith's journey of determination, transformation and the gift of life has turned borrowed time into an opportunity for a healthy future. He never quit and neither did those around him. "Despite what you're going through in life or what you've been diagnosed with, don't ever give up, and never let anyone tell you what you can't do, he said."