In the United States, almost 115,000 people are on transplant lists waiting for organs. About 95,000 of these need kidneys. And for most, the wait is long. But for Matt Barefield, the wait is nearly over. Matt is scheduled to receive a kidney from a living donor – who happens to be his best friend.

News | one month ago

The Gift of Life, Part I: Awaiting Transplant

In the United States, almost 115,000 people are on transplant lists waiting for organs. About 95,000 of these need kidneys. And for most, the wait is long. But for Matt Barefield, the wait is nearly over. Matt is scheduled to receive a kidney from a living donor – who happens to be his best friend. 

 

In the United States, almost 115,000 people are on transplant lists waiting for organs. About 95,000 of these need kidneys. And for most, the wait is long. On average, a patient will wait about five years. Some will wait much longer than that. For others, the transplant will never happen at all. But for Matt Barefield, the wait is nearly over. Matt is scheduled to receive a kidney from a living donor – who happens to be his best friend.

“We knew that we were going to need a transplant at some point in the future, we just didn’t know when,” says Matt, just 45 years old. He and his wife, Cha, thought they were somewhat prepared – but when the news came, it came as a shock nonetheless. “We knew that my kidneys were deteriorating over time… But it turns out that this year is the year for transplant.”

In 2013, Matt Barefield was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, or Berger’s disease, a kidney disease that can ultimately lead to kidney failure. "The effects of the disease started 10 or 12 years ago, but we didn't realize what was going on,” says Matt. “I was just feeling terrible for years." Berger’s disease causes Matt’s body to continue fighting an infection long after the infection is gone, with immunoglobulin A (IgA) becoming lodged in the kidneys, eventually clogging the kidneys and compromising their ability to function properly. 

Kidneys act as filters for blood, removing waste and excess water to form urine.

When your kidneys start to fail, that waste builds up in your blood, and you start to feel sick. And that sickness is every day,” says Vincent Casingal, MD, chief of abdominal transplant and surgical director of the kidney transplant program. “As somebody nears dialysis and goes onto dialysis, we're trying to figure out a way to make them feel better. That's what dialysis can do temporarily. But transplant is the only real solution.” 

At Matt’s diagnosis, his kidneys were functioning at about 60 percent. Now, five years later, they’re down to just five percent. He’s been on dialysis since February 2018. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Matt’s blood is filtered through machines and needles, removing the waste that his kidneys won’t. Each appointment lasts about four hours, generally leeching enough fluid that Matt loses eight to 10 pounds in a sitting. But dialysis is not a permanent solution.

Once Matt was officially on the transplant list, he and Cha met with the donor team alongside others in need of transplants to learn more and felt overwhelmed. With so many people on the transplant list, finding a living donor is often a patient’s best chance – but it’s often like looking for a needle in a haystack, from matching blood type and tissue type, to ensuring good health and willingness of the donor. Fortunately, Matt’s care team at Atrium Health has been there every step of the way. “Gwen Ligon, Matt’s kidney transplant coordinator, has been fantastic in coordinating just about everything we need. She’s always calling, checking to see how we’re doing, keeping me in touch with insurance coordinators,” says Cha. “It’s a lot to navigate.”

Cha has been tasked with being Matt’s kidney advocate – essentially educating others about kidney disease, donation and transplant. Eight to 10 people stepped up for Matt right away, submitting to testing to find out whether they could help. Several were denied for various health reasons, like high blood pressure or being overweight; others simply were not a match. That is, until Barry.

Best Friend Becomes Living Donor

Matt met Barry Teague in 2004. For several years they worked together, often in parallel roles, traveling extensively and forging a deep friendship. Barry eventually moved to Indiana, while Matt and Cha remained in Charlotte. But the friendship endured. So much so that Barry volunteered to be Matt’s living donor – without hesitation.

It was an emotional phone conversation between Barry and Cha. “I said, without even thinking about it, I want to donate a kidney. He needs a kidney, and I can do it. I’m going to be the person to give him a kidney,” says Barry. After several rounds of screening and tests, Barry was confirmed as a match for donation.

Barry will have the chance to give the gift of a kidney to Matt. A gift he’s hopeful others will consider giving, if they have the chance.

There's really no words for it. You can't describe what it's like to have someone basically put their life at risk for your life. It's just very hard to comprehend,” says Matt.

Barry disagrees. “It doesn't feel like I'm doing anything out of the norm. I think that if there were more people out there that were willing to do this, then the outcome would be a lot different. Everyone has the ability to change someone's life. That's what we're here for. You can do good your whole life, and it never may be good enough. But if you do good when you're able to make a difference in someone's life, that's the meaning.

Be sure to follow us as we continue to share more about Matt and Barry’s journey. Stay tuned.


Twenty people die every day waiting for a transplant. Register to become an organ donor today. And consider the possibility of becoming a living donor as well. Learn more at atriumhealth.org/medical-services/specialty-care/transplant/kidney-pancreas-transplant.