Jepson said he already had some insight into the need because it was her second kidney.
“Her husband gave her the first one about 20 years ago,” Jepson said.
Still, because the aunt is a private person, Jepson said, he didn't know for certain until he saw an update on Facebook. That's when Jepson reached out and said he wanted to donate, if possible.
So Jepson contacted the transplant team at Northwestern University. After a meeting, Jepson underwent 12 hours of tests. The team, Jepson said, wanted to be sure Jepson was prepared for the transplant on all levels – physically, mentally, emotionally and even financially, since the donor will be off work a few weeks, he said.
"It was pretty exhausting,” Jepson said about the testing.
But worth it. He was a match.
Surgery itself on Sept. 11, Jepson said, went well. His recipient’s kidney function went from 15 percent to 65 almost immediately and she continued to do well, he added. The two of them even made a video discussing their experiences, he said.
Jepson said his own recovery was more difficult then he anticipated.
“I did end up back in the ER because I was dehydrated and could not keep liquid in my body,” Jepson said. “But after that it was all good.”
Any regrets? None.
“It’s a great feeling," Jepson said.
By contrast, Rob Hicks, 34, of Coal City, sometimes wishes he wasn't so quick to donate. At Easter dinner in 2005, when Hicks was 21, he learned his mother’s aunt needed a kidney.
Hicks immediately offered one of his and subsequently went through several months of testing.
He was a match and went through with the donation.
But in 2009, Hicks began having headaches. Hicks attributed the headaches to a new job and treated them with ibuprofen, never dreaming undiagnosed high blood pressure was causing the headaches.
Until the hypertension damaged his kidneys.
One day an exhausted Hicks struggled to get out of bed. By then Hicks had married Alyssa and was taking high blood pressure medication. Hicks saw his doctor that day.
As Hicks recalled in a 2016 Herald-News story, "He did a couple of urine and blood tests and said, ‘You have kidney disease.’ I said, ‘Well, how do we treat it?’ And he said, ‘That’s the thing. There’s no treatment.’”
Hicks had a transplant in 2016, but the kidney clotted at the site and failed. So the kidney was removed, and Hicks went back on hemodialysis. He also underwent more tests before returning to the transplant list.
Over the next few months, Hicks's mother, stepfather, grandfather and biological father died. On Sept. 30, 2017, Hicks finally went back on the transplant list. He received his second transplant on Nov.. 10, 2017.
He had a couple bouts of rejection and two infections shortly after the transplant, but he has – overall – done very well.
Hicks went back to work three months ago as a valve engineer for Midwest Valve Services. He recently paid off a February 2018 trip to Disney World and plans to take his family again next February.
The anti-rejection medications do upset his stomach and make him jittery. But those are minor compared to what he's experienced.
"I enjoy coming home from work now," Hicks said. "I like being able to provide for my family again. It's that kind of stuff that satisfies me."
(Above, Rob and Alyssa Hicks of Coal City, along with their children Adam, 9; Ayden, 8; and Amelia, 7, enjoy a family vacation).