Terry and Matthew Chau saved each other’s lives. Only, in the beginning, the father and son had no idea they would.
Their incredible journey began when Terry, 64, met his wife Yvonne while working at Sharp HealthCare in 1980. As the two fell in love, Terry learned Yvonne had one of her kidneys removed due to several infections when she was a teen. If she ever needed her kidney replaced, Terry told her he was willing to donate one of his.
Thankfully, however, Yvonne remained healthy, and the couple adopted a baby named Matthew. As he grew older, Terry and Yvonne discovered Matthew also had kidney issues.
“My parents and I found out I was sick when I was a teen,” says Matthew, now 35. “But growing up, I didn’t realize any difference in symptoms and thought I was fine.”
Matthew’s kidney disease progresses
In 2018, Matthew was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease, which is only one stage away from kidney failure.
“I needed to start dialysis or get a kidney transplant,” he says. “I started learning about dialysis and changed my diet in the meantime. I cut out a lot of salty foods and sugary sodas.”
Matthew and his parents also started searching for a kidney donor. “We asked family members and friends and experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. We’d feel hopeful but then disappointed when we heard someone ultimately wasn’t a match for Matthew,” Terry says.
However, Matthew and his parents persisted. They posted on social media and placed signs in neighborhood restaurants, coffee shops, churches and doctors’ offices. They even had signs on the back window of their vehicles.
“I was always willing to donate my kidney to my wife, but I was also willing to donate to my son upon learning his kidney was failing,” says Terry.
A surprise diagnosis for Terry
To learn whether he’d make a good match for his son, Terry began the testing process at Sharp Memorial Hospital. One of those tests, a CT scan of his kidney, also captured an image of his lung. It showed signs of adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that starts in an organ’s glands.
“I was shocked, as I did not have any symptoms,” says Terry. “I’m so thankful it was caught, especially at an early stage.”
Terry received scans for two years post-surgery to confirm he was cancer-free. During those years, the search continued for Matthew’s kidney donor.
“It was a trying time for us,” says Terry. “By the time I recovered from the lobectomy, Matthew had grown more and more tired as his disease progressed. I was concerned as a parent.”
Terry again decided to donate his kidney to his son once his doctors told him it would be safe, and the Sharp Transplant Committee approved.
“We have not seen reoccurrence of cancer in Mr. Chau, and he is expected to stay cancer-free,” says Dr. Anuja Vyas, a pulmonologist affiliated with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group and Sharp Memorial. “Mr. Chau has been a wonderful patient who diligently went to his follow-up appointments. He kept himself healthy and therefore, cleared the path for him to help his son.”
A father’s good health allows a son’s new lease on life
In late February 2022, the preemptive kidney transplant — a transplant that occurs before a patient has started dialysis — took place at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
“I always feel honored to be able to help patients who need transplants,” says Dr. Marquis Hart, who performed Terry’s surgery. “It’s incredible to see the love that Mr. Chau has for his son. His selfless gift of life has benefited the entire family.”
Matthew was thankful to forgo dialysis and is feeling more energetic after his surgery. He is incredibly grateful for his father’s donation along with the care he received at Sharp Memorial.
“Everyone is so informative and caring, and the people are a testament to how great Sharp HealthCare is. I know what it’s like to be on the other side because, at one point, my dad, my mom and I all worked here,” he says.
Terry, who returned to work two weeks after the procedure, echoes Matthew’s sentiments and encourages everyone who is able to be a living kidney donor.
“I’ve been blessed with Matthew saving my life as well as being given an opportunity to save his life,” he says. “It can take several years to find a kidney donor — the wait in San Diego is up to 10 years. If there’s anything you can do to give life to someone in need, it’s amazing to be able to help.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Vyas, Dr. Hart or Dr. Halldorson about this story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.