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'It's Just Like A Miracle Every Morning': Kidney Recipient Grateful To Young Donor

DENVER (CBS4) - A member of a Denver country/rock band is still making music thanks to an amazing young man. Last May, John Bickham's kidneys were barely functioning. Now, John has a healthy, donated kidney and a heart full of gratitude.

He's known as Johnny B when he's with the band called "Twenty Hands High." But a year ago, John wondered if he'd ever play again.

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(credit: Twenty Hands High)

"I was at stage 4 kidney disease," he told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

John's kidney function was under 10%.

"At this stage, sometimes I could feel what it was to gradually die," he said.

John's wife, Rita Niblack, put out a plea on Facebook for a living donor. Rita is the Pastoral Director at Mullen High School. Her prayers were answered when a former student, Connor Arend, offered to help.

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(credit: Bickham family)

"I think God just like put the thought in my head that maybe I should even just see if I could donate," Connor explained.

Twenty-four-year-old Connor was a match.

"They've always been super nice and super thoughtful. The fact that I could have a chance to give something back to them ... it was an easy decision," said Connor.

Connor married his high school sweetheart on Oct. 5, 2019. On Nov. 18, 2019, at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center (PSL), he saved John's life.

"I have so much energy. It's just like a miracle every morning when I wake up," said John.

"It's so awesome that I was able to give him a new life again," said Connor.

"He totally blows me away," said John blinking back tears.

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(credit: Bickham family)

John exercises and eats right. The 63-year-old lost more than 50 lbs. since the transplant. He calls Connor his hero. John vows to do his best to honor the incredible gift of life.

Transplant surgeon Dr. Vidya Bhandaram at PSL had this to say about kidney transplantation and COVID.

"Kidney transplantation is a life-prolonging surgery and survival with kidney transplant is much greater than with dialysis. Living donor kidneys last longer than deceased donor kidneys and have fewer medical and surgical complications. Donors have to be healthy and go through rigorous testing to be approved. They also have to continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle after donation, to minimize their risk of developing kidney disease.

In the COVID era, as we restart our living donor program, we have several processes in place to ensure the safety of our recipients, donors and hospital staff. Steps being taken include pre-operative COVID testing of all living donors and recipients, screening of all visitors and staff entering the hospital with temperature checks, designated OR and floors for transplant recipients and donors, careful assessment of immunosuppression medications, self-quarantine at home after surgery, and arranging for telehealth visits when possible."

LINK: PSL Kidney Transplant Center

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