OAK LAWN, Ill. | Thanksgiving this year was truly a special holiday for 51-year-old LaVonda Wallace, of South Holland; her sister, 56-year-old Cherylyn Gooch, of Flossmoor; and a 27-year-old man from Wheaton, according to a news release.
Before receiving a new kidney at Advocate Christ Medical Center in May, “I was just looking for the end,” said Wallace, who suffered kidney failure in 2006 and had been spending at least 12 hours a week on dialysis since then. “To begin again, to be back to working, is simply wonderful. And, Robert – he is just awesome. He was God-sent.”
Last January, Robert Pechous, of Wheaton, made a New Year's resolution to do something special for someone.
“I was tired of seeing people suffer,” he said, according to the release.
That is why he walked into the kidney transplant clinic at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn earlier this year and talked with Deepak Mital, M.D., surgical director of the kidney transplant program, to find out whether or not he might be a match for anyone needing a kidney.
He proved to be a match for Wallace. For Pechous, it would be his first surgery. The day after their respective operations, “my nurse took me down to meet her (LaVonda),” Pechous said. “It was the coolest moment of my life to see someone so happy and thankful.”
“I had never met Robert before,” Wallace said later. “I only had heard his voice, talking, across the hall when he was going in for surgery, and I was waiting for his kidney.”
What Pechous did not know at the time of his face-to-face introduction to Wallace was that LaVonda had experienced several prior “almost” kidney matches — one of them being her sister, Cherylyn Gooch, who is an active, competitive runner. About two-and-a-half years earlier, Gooch had been in her final stages of testing to donate one of her kidneys to LaVonda. Everything looked like a “go.”
“I was so excited to be a blood match for my sister. We were doing the ‘happy dance,’” Gooch said in the release.
That’s when physicians, serendipitously, discovered Gooch to be in the early stages of lung cancer — a discovery that saved her life.
“I was asymptomatic at the time,” Gooch said. “Doctors told me I potentially could have remained without symptoms for a long time. Only about 15 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed in this first phase.”
Gooch underwent an operation to remove a 2-centimeter nodule from her right lung. Six months later, she was back in the gym training and running competitively again, including events in USA Track and Field.
Wallace then tried for another kidney transplant.
Now, enter Robert Pechous.
“I can’t thank Robert enough,” Wallace said. “He has changed my life.”
Indeed, he has. Through the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services, Wallace is back to work — at least part-time — serving as a personal assistant to individuals debilitated by injury or disease, such as a stroke. She also is undergoing training in medical billing and coding, with a goal of becoming a medical administrative assistant.
“I am able to get up and go to work again. I never thought I would reach this point,” Wallace said.
“God works in amazing ways — how all three of our lives were brought together in this manner,” Gooch added.
Meanwhile, Pechous recently added to his year of “firsts” — first surgery, first hospital stay — by running his first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, in October, only five months after kidney surgery.
“It’s very unusual for a patient to run a full marathon just five months after kidney donation,” said Pechous' surgeon, Mital, who ran in the same marathon this year. “Robert’s achievement shows that kidney donors can lead a normal life after the surgery.”
Pechous ran the marathon in quicker time than Mital. Pechous: four hours, 28 minutes; Mital: five hours, 29 minutes.