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Longmont/LA Friends Celebrate 5-year Mark of Successful Kidney Transplant

July 20, 2016
Longmont resident Chris Olsen, 40, left, donated a kidney to his friend Arron Silva, 44, of Los Angeles, five years ago. Silva is in Longmont visiting Olsen to celebrate the anniversary.
Longmont resident Chris Olsen, 40, left, donated a kidney to his friend Arron Silva, 44, of Los Angeles, five years ago. Silva is in Longmont visiting Olsen to celebrate the anniversary.

The Silva family of California is vacationing in Colorado this week, celebrating a peculiar five-year anniversary.

Five years ago Tuesday, Chris Olsen of Longmont donated a kidney to his friend, Arron Silva of Los Angeles.

Olsen, 40, said the two met in college and kept in touch afterward, but when Silva came to Colorado in 2010 for Olsen’s sister’s wedding, the family knew something was off.

“I didn’t know he was in such bad shape,” Olsen said. “Both kidneys were in failure and he was doing dialysis all the time. ... When I saw him, he was just yellow. The dialysis wasn’t cleaning everything out that it needed to, and he’d put on a lot of weight because there was a lot of foods he couldn’t eat like greens and stuff like that because they weren’t good for the kidneys.”

Silva has a genetic disorder called polycystic kidney disease, in which cysts grow on the kidneys, eventually prohibiting them from properly filtering blood.

While the disorder is genetic, it strikes when the patient is an adult, usually in the 20s or 30s, Silva said.

Silva was diagnosed and placed on the list of people in Los Angeles County in need of a kidney. He was told the wait time for a kidney would be between four and seven years.

“I was on the list for one year without going on dialysis and then another year and a half on dialysis,” said Silva, whose mother also had the disorder and died from complications associated with the cysts. “When I came up for Chris’ sister’s wedding, I had to ship up a bunch of my fluid because I was doing home dialysis.”

When Olsen heard about Silva’s disorder, he offered to donate a kidney, but Silva didn’t think much of it initially.

“I had lots of friends — you know, ‘I’ll give you a kidney, I’ll give you a kidney,’ and they wouldn’t really follow through. And I get it, there’s all kinds of reasons why,” Silva said. “So at the wedding he said, ‘I’ll give you my kidney,’ but I didn’t have the number (for prospective donors) with me because I figured if someone really wanted to they would push for it.”

But Olsen was serious. He called Silva once he was back home in California and asked again for the number. From there, Silva said, the University of California Los Angeles hospital system staff corresponded with Olsen but kept Silva largely out of the loop.

“Someone can call and (the donor) sets it up,” Silva said. “And usually when that is happening, they are not telling me the recipient any of what’s going on. ... I told him, ‘No worries if he needs to back out. I get it,’ and he’d just call and say, ‘I did another test today’ and I would say ‘OK, cool.’”

Olsen said from his perspective, it all happened very quickly.

“I had to bug him a couple times to get that (donor) number and I did and went down and got tested and it came back I was a match,” Olsen said. “I did some testing out here and then I flew out to UCLA to get more testing and when I finished that, it was all very sudden. It was like all systems go at that point.”

On July 19, 2011, surgeons transplanted Olsen’s kidney in to Silva.

Silva’s body had a minor rejection of the kidney one week later, the day they were supposed to have a going away dinner for Olsen. But it was only minor and things since then have largely been smooth sailing, Silva said.

Silva still has his two kidneys, which are roughly the size of footballs because of all the cysts. Occasionally a cyst will burst, causing him severe pain and he has to go back to see his kidney specialist. One of those times he agreed to take part in research that was using ultrasound technology to get a look at internal organs. When he saw his two non-functioning kidneys and Olsen’s functioning kidney inside him via the ultrasound, Silva said he was shocked.

“It was pretty scary. I had never seen it myself. There are just all these little balls all over my kidneys,” Silva said. “And the doctor showed me how my native kidneys had hardly any fluids going through them and he showed me Chris’s transplanted kidney full-on moving fluids. It’s amazing.”

Olsen said the two joke about the transplant all the time, with Olsen saying Silva owes him big time.

“I don’t tell everybody about it,” Olsen said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Silva, who has two young daughters, said the transplant was a blessing, greatly improving the quality of life he would have had waiting on the donor list while doing dialysis.

“Life is much shorter, no question, and the quality of life is degraded” without the transplant, Silva said. “This could last a long time. My brother had his kidney transplant, and it’s going on 12 years. My aunt’s is going on 22 years.”

The two men’s families had a barbecue on Saturday and traveled to Garden of the Gods on Monday to celebrate. On Tuesday’s five-year anniversary of the transplant, the friends planned to take in a Colorado Rockies game.

Karen Antonacci: 303-684-5226, antonaccik@times-call.com or twitter.com/ktonacci

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