When Zachary High School coach Steven Thomas first offered to donate one of his kidneys to a friend, he never dreamed he’d actually be a match and ultimately selected as the “go-to guy,” the defensive coordinator said while sitting in ZHS football coach David Brewerton’s office on May 7.
Now, just days away from the procedure, Thomas is psyching himself up for the surgery scheduled for May 22.
“I feel good. I’m saving someone’s life and, hey, I’m guaranteeing myself a ticket to heaven, right?” Thomas said, joking.
The seriousness of his offer is that he really is saving the life of close friend Paula Todd, the wife of Livonia High School assistant football coach Mike Todd.
Paula Todd has polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder in which clusters of benign cysts develop, primarily within the kidneys.
Thomas says because of the progression of the disease, her kidneys are now functioning at about 10 percent, and she was facing dialysis, astronomical medical bills even with insurance, multiple surgeries, medications for life and a complete lifestyle change.
“Her siblings have PKD but have all received transplants, and she is a mother, schoolteacher and respected member of her community,” Thomas said.
He first met the Todds while coaching at Walker High School, where Mike was head football coach.
“We became good friends and have remained good friends,” said Thomas, who himself is married with four children. “Once we discovered we were both A-positive blood types, then the serious discussions and testing began.”
A slew of tests began in mid-March and required frequent trips to New Orleans. Three people volunteered to get tested for Todd, and as potential donors, they were ranked in order of compatibility. Thomas was second in that regard, but because the person who ranked first had high blood pressure, Thomas was bumped into the No. 1 slot.
“Failing one small test gets you ousted as a donor. They do not play around,” he said.
Family members do not undergo psychological testing, but Thomas did, and plenty of it. The rigorous testing included three days of examinations, 350 psychological evaluation questions, CT scans, frequent blood pressure checks and a battery of other mentally and physically exhausting inquiries that are part of the organ donor process.
“Who knew? One of the questions they asked me was if I had ever swam across a river 30 times. What ... what?” Thomas said in disbelief but jokingly.
His family is proud but cautious. Recovery time will be three to four weeks, and Thomas will have four scars after the procedure.
“My wife and I are both organ donors, and I’m basically a healthy guy, but you start thinking about how you’re putting your own body at risk for someone else and how your own family becomes vulnerable.”
Brewerton said that when he first heard about Thomas’ decision to become a donor, his first thought was from a professional standpoint.
“I started thinking ‘OK, it’ll be between spring practice and summer games,’ then I stopped and thought, ‘Wait, he’s got to do this for our friends; I completely understand,’ then just thought of ways I could support his decision,” said Brewerton, who also praised Principal Joe LeBlanc for allowing Thomas to make the trips for testing.
“What a tremendous role model coach Thomas is,” Brewerton said. “Mike (Todd) and I talked about it for a while, and all he kept saying was how it really puts things into perspective. Things you once worried about, you don’t anymore. What a sacrifice.”