Twins share friends, military career ... and now, organs
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Tribune News Service) — RJ and JR Rivera share a lot.
The fraternal twins have the same name (Rogelio), played tennis together at Tallwood High School and joined the U.S. Army together.
The twins found a way to be even closer earlier this month when JR donated one of his kidneys to RJ, who has a disease that causes kidney failure.
“It would be the best match since we’re twins,” said JR, the older of the Rivera twins by two minutes. “I don’t want to see him on dialysis. I couldn’t see that life for him.”
RJ was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy before his third deployment in 2009. After a competitive run, he noticed his blood pressure was abnormally high. When he went to get it checked out, doctors diagnosed him with the disease.
It’s slow-progressing. In 2009, RJ’s kidney function was at 20 percent, he said. Doctors told him without dialysis or a transplant, it would continue to decline.
“Really I had no symptoms at all,” he said. “It took me by surprise, because I thought I was fairly healthy because I was in the military.”
In 2011, RJ retired from the Army. Last year, his kidneys got worse. He began to get tired more often, and he noticed a metallic taste in his mouth — a sign of kidney dysfunction.
That was a sign that it was time for RJ to go on dialysis or get a transplant. His wife, brother and other family members offered to donate.
“It was nothing too serious, me and my brother joke a lot,” RJ said. “But he said if I needed a kidney, he’d give me one.”
Preparing for surgery was easy, JR said. He had to go through medical and psychological testing before he was approved to be his brother’s donor.
“I think the scariest part was making sure everyone in the hospital knew who was the donor and who was the recipient,” JR joked.
The Riveras were one of a handful of transplants Sentara has done between twins since the 1970s, said Harlan Rust, medical director for Sentara Norfolk General Hospital's kidney transplant program.
The hospital is preparing to perform a transplant between a set of identical twins in the coming weeks, Rust said.
Sentara is the only hospital system in Hampton Roads that performs organ transplants.
Twins are easy matches, Rust said. For organ donations, blood types and certain cellular features have to match. Fraternal twins match about as often as siblings, Rust said. Identical twins will always be a match, and the recipient won't have to take medication to avoid rejection of the organ, Rust said.
The actual transplant surgery for twins is the same as any other organ donor and recipient. It takes about seven weeks to fully recover.
The Rivera brothers are only about two weeks out from the surgery and have already started walking around their neighborhoods again.
RJ has also started reflecting on how lucky he is to have JR as his brother.
“It’s pretty emotional,” RJ said. “I give thanks to him a lot, and I say 'Love you,' more often.”
©2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.