Neil Benedict likes to joke that at 19 he is, in part, half a century old thanks to dear old Dad.
And he’s not wrong.
Neil, a new graduate of the Radio & Television Arts program at NSCC, has been gradually losing kidney function since birth due to a defect caused by posterior urethral valve.
About a year ago, doctors informed Neil he would require a kidney transplant within two years.
“It was quite surprising ‘cause I was going to the IWK for 18 years and my physicians were saying that I was OK,I was healthy,” the Noel resident recalled.
If Neil did not find a donor in that time, he’d be spending three days a week in a hospital, hooked to a life-preserving dialysis machine for hours on end.
“It was emotional,” he said. “It was a bunch of news coming all at once.”
Lucky for Neil, his parents — Tim and Anita Benedict — weren’t about to let that happen if there was anything they could do about it. Testing revealed that both parents were likely eligible donors, but Tim was a better match.
“It was a great thing to hear,” said Neil.
In the year leading up to the surgery date, father and son endured multiple tests and followed strict instructions to ensure the transplant had the highest probability of success possible.
“I’m not a small person, so a special diet that consisted of no salt and no potassium was another thing that kind of shocked me,” said Neil, who playfully scolded his mother for smirking in the background.
For Tim, the most difficult aspect of preparing for the transplant was waiting for the results of testing that would determine if he could go through with the transplant.
“You have to pass one test before you do another,” Tim explained.
If at any point in the process Tim was unable to proceed, Anita was ready to jump in. But the clock was ticking, and neither parent wanted to see their son reliant on a dialysis machine three days a week when he was on the brink of setting out to make his way in the world.
“The last thing I wanted to do was be the hold up,” Tim said.
Tim kept busy in the days leading up to the transplant. He didn’t dwell on the risks associated with the surgery, or worry about the potential impacts losing a kidney may have on his health.
There was no point.
“I was going to do this regardless,” he said.
The transplant took place June 19. Neil said he had his affairs in order, and went to the hospital with the understanding that “what’s going to happen, will happen.”
He admits it was hard not to be overcome with emotion while he was lying on a gurney, being wheeled to the operating room.
“Mom watched me there and it kind of like hit me all at once,” he said.
“It was quite profound, a little bit of tear shedding and all that kind of stuff.”
Anita has since learned how to balance a busy working life with caring for two patients and raising her other children. She admits June and July have been stressful months, but the family is determined to remain positive.
“You find strength you didn't know you had,” she said.
There’s also one unexpected plus for Anita.
“I am no longer afraid to drive in Halifax,” she joked.
The first three months following the transplant will be the most critical, but Neil and Tim will be travelling to Halifax for regular appointments for one year.
Tim was told to expect a lengthier recovery period than his son due to the invasive nature of the surgery required to safely retrieve his kidney, but he’s happy he was able to help out.
“It’s well worth it when you think of the benefits you can give somebody else,” he said, noting that there is a growing need for more live donors in Nova Scotia.
As for Neil, he’ll be focusing on helping his body accept the new organ — no matter how old it may be.
“I’ll be more conscious about what I eat and how I look after myself,” said Neil, who learned that health is not something one should take for granted at a young age.
Neil teased that he will pay particular attention to his body part that is half a century old.
Taking Neil’s razzing in stride, Tim merely corrected his son.
“It’s 51 now.”