Literal life saver: Alumni offers ultimate gift of organ donation

The setting: State College, Pennsylvania, 7 a.m., Sept. 12, 2015. Pre-game tailgate for Penn State vs. Buffalo game.

Penn State alumnus John Hyde,1984, was hosting his regular tailgate at Beaver Stadium for his son’s Penn State Altoona baseball teammates and friends. Alumnus Alex Reed, 2013, was in attendance as usual. But this was no usual day.

 “I asked him over and over if there was anything else he needed. Finally I said, ‘How about my kidney.’”

-- Penn State alumnus John Hyde, 1984

Hyde was manning the grill and asked Alex what he needed. There was only one thing on the griddle, so Alex had no choice but to ask for a breakfast sandwich. Or maybe not. “I asked him over and over if there was anything else he needed,” recalled Hyde. “Finally I said, ‘How about my kidney.’”

Alex was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease just two weeks after his graduation from Penn State Altoona in spring 2013. For the next two years, rather than embarking on the future for which he had planned, Alex spent a large portion of his time receiving kidney dialysis. His continuing hope, and that of his mom Bobbie Reed, was to find a kidney donor.

When Penn State Altoona, via its alumni e-newsletter Ivy Link, featured Alex’s struggle, Bobbie shared the article on Facebook. Hyde, who kept tabs on the tailgate attendees through Facebook, saw the post. “I didn’t know Alex very well, but the others spoke so highly of him,” stated Hyde. “The article said he was on dialysis four hours a day, four days a week, and in between was wiped out. That’s no way for any 24-year-old to live. That’s what hit me.”

Hyde knew of Alex’s illness for about a year before he took any action to help. “I wasn’t in the position to do anything about it. I wasn’t healthy. There were a number of girls in the tailgating group who gave so much of themselves for things like THON and volunteering at camps for children with special needs. I looked at what they did and I felt small. It was time to give more of myself, something more significant than hosting tailgates,” stated Hyde.

“So I lost the weight and got back in shape. After another Facebook post by his mom, I thought I could do it,” said Hyde. “I asked my wife if it was okay to do something that I really wanted to do, but was dangerous.” He first joked that it was skydiving, but then revealed that it was kidney donation. “She was hesitant, but always supportive.”

Alex recalls the life-changing tailgate. “I am a quiet, private kind of guy. I was shocked, happy, excited, and probably a lot more. Emotions ran deep. I didn’t know what to say.” So he called his mom.

“When Alex called me, I was in a state of shock and disbelief,” Bobbie said. “He said, ‘Mr. Hyde is giving me his kidney. Do you want to talk to him?’ I started to cry; it was a very emotional moment.”

Alex and Hyde agreed on Nov. 9, 2015, for the surgery. From Hyde’s perspective the surgery was “a piece of cake. I was out of the hospital the next day and walking three miles the day after. It’s like getting your appendix removed.” One year post-surgery, Hyde still feels good, working on staying in shape and keeping his blood pressure in check.

Recovery for Alex was “a lot of adjusting. There was an immediate relief of not having to do dialysis to stay alive. I have more energy and more freedom to do the things I took for granted in the past, like spending time with friends and traveling. There were a lot of adjustments initially with the new medications to keep my kidney healthy, which I’ll have to take for the rest of my life. But one year later, I feel great and I am enjoying life.”

Both mother and son are very thankful to the Penn State Altoona alumni network. “The power of being a Penn State Altoona alum is far-reaching,” noted Bobbie. “I really believe that Penn Staters take care of their own. This asset develops not from the learning in a book, but from the bonds that grow and flourish within the Penn State Altoona campus community. It’s very easy to understand why so many students elect to remain at the Penn State Altoona campus for four years. Friendships form early on, and remain.” Notes Alex, “The Penn State Altoona alumni network affords all alums the vehicle to give back. It anchors the words we hear often: WE ARE … PENN STATE … THANK YOU!”

And, of course, they are forever thankful to Hyde. “Saying thanks doesn’t even scratch the surface,” said Bobbie. “John is an amazing human being. He loves his family and he cares deeply about others. He wanted to give back and lead by example. As a Penn Stater, I am sure his actions will have a lasting impact on others through inspiring them to help others.”

Alex still has a hard time expressing his thoughts and feelings about this part of his life. “It’s as personal as it gets. John will always be a part of me, in a very real life-saving way.”

Although kidney disease will always be a part of his life, because transplantation is a treatment not a cure, Alex really wants to put this behind him and look forward. “My goal is to focus on building a better future. I need to remain healthy and move forward both professionally and personally.”

Now transitioning into his new role with his family’s insurance agency, Alex is also looking forward to traveling and spending time with his Penn State Altoona baseball teammates and classmates. But the importance of organ donation is at the forefront of his thoughts. “My life has been forever changed. I strongly encourage everyone to register to be an organ donor. You can and will make a difference in someone else’s life, like John did for me.”

Through navigating her son’s illness with kidney disease, dialysis, finding a donor, and transplant, Bobbie has become quite an advocate for this topic, having been named as the Pennsylvania Liaison by the National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Advocacy Committee, as well as being active with the American Association of Kidney Patients.

“As I sit here today, there are well over 100,000 people here in the United States waiting for a lifesaving kidney donor. Last year at this time, my son was one of them. He was fortunate to find a living donor to save his life,” stated Bobbie. “But a person doesn’t have to be a living donor to save a life. It is so simple to register to be an organ donor these days. Simply checking a box on your driver’s license renewal or going online and registering as a donor can take just a few minutes. Science and technology is advancing but not there just yet. Perhaps someday there won’t be a need for organ donors to sustain life, but for now, perhaps registering to be an organ donor can be your way of giving back.”

Last Updated January 11, 2017