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Airman donates kidney to son of family friends

When Eric Larmay found out that the young son of family friends needed a kidney transplant, he didn't need much time to think about it.

The next day, Larmay told his friends Sonya and Cody White that he wanted to be tested to give a kidney to their son Hunter Mitchell, then 12.

Larmay is an Air Force staff sergeant with Pope Field's 43rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, where he has worked with Cody White for four years.

Larmay's wife, Jordan, and Sonya White became friends a little over a year ago through their husbands' connection.

It is a link Sonya now calls a blessing.

"Obviously, Cody knew Eric, but I hadn't gotten to meet them," Sonya said. "Just by chance, we had a get-together, and Jordan showed up and Eric came a little later. It was six months after that we found out Hunter needed a kidney.

"People come into your life for a reason," she said. "That was the reason for Jordan showing up that day."

Hunter, who lives in Hayden, Alabama, with his father, Leslie Mitchell, had been in need of a kidney since fall 2013.

A preseason football physical showed high levels of protein in his urine, a sign that further evaluation was needed. A follow-up with a nephrologist revealed that Hunter was born with a horseshoe kidney and dysplasia, a condition in which fluid-filled sacs take up space where normal tissue should be, making proper function impossible.

"We found out that his kidney function at that time was around 20percent," Sonya said. "He was starting to show signs because, basically, his body was outgrowing his kidney."

The diagnosis was a complete shock to the family.

"Hunter was a healthy kid," Sonya said. "When he was born, there were no problems and nothing during pregnancy. He never had any issues."

Over the next few months, Hunter participated in a clinical trial to try to elevate his kidney function, but when it dipped near 10 percent, the Whites put out word that he needed a kidney.

Jordan said she was completely supportive of Eric's decision to get tested.

"He didn't even have to ask me," Jordan said. "We're talking about a 12-year-old boy fighting for his life, being on dialysis. That's no way for a teenage boy to live. I would have gone through the process myself if I'd had the right blood type."

Eric had a series of screenings and tests, first by phone and then in person in February at University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital to ensure the 28-year-old was a suitable donor.

In April, while Hunter was on spring break visiting Sonya and Cody, they learned that Eric could provide Hunter with a kidney.

They were driving back from a fun-filled day in Raleigh when Jordan called Sonya with the news.

Tired, Sonya declined the call.

When Cody's phone rang seconds later with a call from Eric, the Whites realized it was a call that should not be ignored.

"I said, 'Oh, my God, they've got news,'" Cody said.

Sonya called Eric's approval as a donor "the best news I've ever gotten."

But she had concerns about how the loss of a kidney would affect Eric's military career.

Eric made the military aware of his decision and assumed responsibility for the elective surgery and whatever physical repercussions it might bring.

"Hunter is so much more worth it than a job," Eric said. "I can replace a job. You can't replace your son."

The pair underwent surgery shortly thereafter - on April 24 - with Eric at UAB Hospital and Hunter at Children's Hospital of Alabama, about a quarter-mile away.

Sonya said the transplant went smoothly, with no complications or indications that Hunter's body would reject Eric's kidney.

Eric spent two days in the hospital. Hunter was there a week. As soon as Eric was released, the Larmays' first stop was to visit Hunter.

"One of the best and most fulfilling moments was the day that I was released, being able to actually see him in the hospital," Eric said.

Hunter celebrated his 13th birthday May 23 and finished the seventh grade on a homebound program.

"If you were to see him before the surgery and now, you'd never know anything was ever wrong," Cody said. "He's made us stronger."

Hunter is still recovering from the surgery, and he's back in the hospital now for treatment of a staph infection.

He will stay at least two weeks, but Sonya says that length of time is routine for organ recipients and that the prognosis is good.

A transplanted kidney is usually good for about 15 to 20 years, meaning Hunter will need another donation as an adult.

But that is far in the future for the Whites and the Larmays, who now call each other family.

"I am eternally grateful to Eric," Sonya said. "It's like I tell him all the time, I'll spend the rest of my life thanking him for it. I don't know how. How do you thank someone who just saved your son?"

Staff writer Jaclyn Shambaugh can be reached at shambaughj@fayobserver.com or 609-0651.

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