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Jeremy and Drew Smith: Brothers, best friends and the perfect match

Jeremy and Drew Smith

Jeremy Smith and his brother, Drew, have been best friends since they were kids. Now both in their 30s, they have spent decades doing everything together — playing on the same sports teams, taking an annual snowboarding trip to Lake Tahoe, hanging out in the same group of friends, attending the same college and even once following each other in a move across the country.

But in 2020, they also went into surgery together when Jeremy donated his kidney to Drew.

Drew found out that he had kidney disease by chance. During his sophomore year of college, he came down with bronchitis and went to his doctor, who ordered routine blood work. After reviewing the results, the doctor found an elevated creatinine level, which indicated that his kidneys were not functioning as well as they should be. Completely unaware that there was anything wrong with his kidneys, Drew went through several additional tests and eventually learned that renal reflux — a backflow of urine into the kidneys — was the cause of his kidney disease.

In 2019, Drew's kidney disease progressed to kidney failure. He began peritoneal dialysis at home and a yearlong search for a living kidney donor. Their mom, dad and multiple close friends were all tested to see if they could donate a kidney to Drew, but it was Jeremy who was the perfect match.

Jeremy spent a year prepping for the transplant. He changed his entire lifestyle so he could be his healthiest for the surgery. He got COVID-19 back in March, but fortunately recovered. Jeremy says that the pandemic lockdown was the "perfect storm" because it allowed him to do pretty much nothing else except focus on being ready to give Drew his kidney.

The transplant was originally supposed to take place early in the summer, but it was postponed to October due to COVID-19 safety concerns. Jeremy flew from New York City, where he lives, to San Francisco, where Drew lives, for the surgery. Despite the nerves from traveling during a pandemic, the trip was relatively smooth sailing. Jeremy booked a flight on an airline that was leaving the middle seats open so passengers could social distance from each other on the plane. Once he got to San Francisco, the hospital put him up in a hotel so he could safely quarantine before the transplant.

Jeremy successfully donated his kidney to Drew on October 8, 2020.

The hospital was very cautious during intake because of the pandemic. Everyone had to test negative for COVID-19 prior to arrival at the hospital, then go through multiple screening procedures before admittance to the preop room. After the surgery, Jeremy and Drew went straight to their recovery rooms, which were sanitized multiple times a day. All hospital staff wore masks the entire time, and all patients were required to wear masks whenever outside of their rooms and when interacting with staff. Luckily for Jeremy, he was able to get up and moving on day two after the surgery, so by day three the hospital felt that he was in stable enough condition to be released. Drew stayed in the hospital for five nights prior to being released. For the next two weeks, they both recovered in a house located in the Sunset district in San Francisco, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful weather and sights of the Golden Gate City.

The perfect storm created by the coronavirus pandemic also gave Jeremy the time to give back to the larger kidney disease community. Inspired by Drew and friends who lost parents to kidney disease, Jeremy signed up for the American Kidney Fund's (AKF) do-it-yourself fundraising platform, KidneyNation. Jeremy started a KidneyNation fundraising page and also hosted a backyard concert at their family farmhouse in Pennsylvania, featuring the Grammy-nominated band Yarn, to raise additional funds. Determined to raise money for AKF as a tribute to Drew before the transplant surgery, Jeremy reached out to his network of family, friends and coworkers to get as many donations and sell as many concert tickets as he could. His fundraising efforts were so successful, he exceeded by thousands of dollars his goal of raising $8,500 for AKF's programs and services, for a total of more than $12,100.

Since the transplant surgery, Jeremy and Drew have continued recovering together by the beach in San Francisco. They plan on being in top shape to hit the Tahoe slopes again this winter.


Elissa Blattman

Elissa Blattman is the associate director of communications at the American Kidney Fund.