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Airman steps up for family

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Apryl Hall
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
As she lay on the cold, metal table in an operating room in Virginia, the profoundness of what she was about to do began to set in. Body shaking and vision narrowing, it dawned on her that in a few short hours she will have given her mother something priceless, something that had been slowly slipping away. She was giving her mother her life back.

It was 2012 when Airman 1st Class Amber Davenport, 5th Bomb Wing knowledge operations manager, received troubling news--her mother was very sick. Davenport's mother, Terrish Patterson, had Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease that causes the tissue to harden and ultimately leads to kidney failure.

The 20-year-old was in shock. Davenport was fresh out of basic military training and knew something was wrong, but her mother had been downplaying the severity of her condition for months. The time had come for Davenport to learn that without a kidney transplant, her mother's life would be cut short.

"I was asking all the questions in the world ... I didn't know what to do," Davenport said. "I wanted to be upset but she was sick, so I wanted to do whatever I could to help."

Despite being thousands of miles away at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Davenport reached out to her mother in Virginia. Over the next several months, they struggled to find a solution. Waiting for a kidney on the national transplant list would be too timely, and they simply did not have enough time. Together they exhausted all other options. The only thing left was a donation from a family member.

Davenport's blood was tested and although it wasn't a match, doctors informed her there was still a way to make it work. The process would be extremely thorough and perhaps have slightly higher risks, but after weighing all the other options, Davenport decided she would go through with the procedure, donating her kidney to her mom.

"I was in full support of her getting the transplant no matter how it was done," Davenport explained. "It was scary to think they were going to cut me open and take a part of me out, but I was happy to be able to help my mom."

In order to make the transplant work, despite incompatible blood types, Davenport went through an extensive screening process to ensure her health, while her mother was given several blood treatments that removed antigens from her blood. Antigens produce antibodies that would attack the donated kidney due to the different blood types. Removing the antigens gave Patterson the best chance at accepting the new kidney.

After months of preparing, the day of the surgery arrived. No matter how nervous she was, Davenport focused on what mattered most, her mother, she said.

"She's my mom, she raised me, and I'm very appreciative of everything she's done for me," Davenport said. "It extended her life, so a kidney was no problem."

After the surgery, both Davenport and Patterson began the recovery process. A few days into recovery, there was a scare as Patterson's body rapidly produced antigens, which began to attack her new kidney.

"It was such a scary moment," Davenport said. "I just kept thinking the surgery was a failure."

Over the next couple of days doctors worked tirelessly to suppress the antigens. In the end, the doctors won the battle with the antigens, making the transplant a success, Davenport said.

Now almost six months post-transplant, Patterson is doing well and deeply grateful for her daughter's selflessness, she said.

"Amber is such a kind and giving person," Patterson said. "If she could help the whole world with their problems, she would, no matter how big or small."

Although there were obstacles to overcome throughout the near two-year process, being able to save her mother's life is a feeling unlike any other in the world, she said.

"My mom can actually live without having to report to a machine every week of her life," Davenport said. "I'm just so happy. I'm happy for her, I'm happy to have done it, and I would be happy to do it again if I had to."