Travis Conway will receive no better Christmas gift this year than the one he got last month — the gift of life.

On Nov. 21, the Skowhegan native, who lives in Westford, Massachusetts, got a new kidney at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

It was not his first transplant and likely won’t be his last.

Travis Conway Contributed photo

Twenty-seven years ago in 1992, when he was 13, a baseball and basketball player for Skowhegan Area Middle School, his heart was destroyed by an uncommon virus that came on suddenly and landed him at death’s door. He got a new heart at Boston Children’s Hospital after being on life support 13 days as the town of Skowhegan rallied, holding fundraisers during the holiday season and supporting him on all fronts.

I wrote about the search for a heart at the time, staying in close contact with Travis’ parents, Gail and Jay Conway. Just after Christmas that year, I had the privilege of interviewing Travis when he got home from the hospital. Everyone called his recovery a Christmas miracle.

On Dec. 23 this year, Travis will turn 41. He has done well. He is active, loves to ski and has worked many years as senior auditor for a company that insures law firms. He works mostly from home, not far from his doctors at Brigham and Women’s.

We have kept in touch over the years via email and phone. In January, I wrote a column about his search for a new kidney.

As Travis explained at the time, his heart was working fine, but he needed a kidney. Finding a match was tricky and took a long time. In certain people who have had multiple organ transplants and blood transfusions, the immune system can build antibodies to tissue types. If a kidney recipient builds antibodies to a tissue type in a potential donor’s kidney, it becomes a high-risk transplant and doctors won’t perform the surgery because the immune system would immediately start to reject the kidney. Travis had had a previous kidney transplant, which eventually failed.

Until his most recent transplant Nov. 21, he had been on dialysis 18 months, going for treatments three days a week for four hours each time, remaining optimistic he would receive a kidney that would be a match.

Jesi Godin, formerly of Canaan, and Travis Conway, formerly of Skowhegan, attended the junior prom when they were at Skowhegan Area High School. Godin donated a kidney to enable Conway to have a kidney transplant. Photo courtesy of Travis Conway

That is where Jesi Godin, formerly of Canaan, comes in.

A veterinary technician who holds a doctorate in psychology, Godin, 40, of Croton-on-Hudson, New York, had long wanted to donate a kidney for someone in need. As she said Wednesday in a phone interview, she thought about her own children and what would happen if they ever needed one. She felt compelled to step up to the plate.

She learned Travis needed a kidney. They had been classmates at Skowhegan Area High. They even went to the junior prom together, though they had not been in touch much until about a year ago.

She saw Travis’ need for a kidney as the perfect opportunity to donate one of her own, contacted him through his Facebook page, Kidney4Trav, emailed him and the process began.

Though it was determined she was not a match, she learned she could donate a kidney through the National Kidney Registry swap program and that would enable Travis to get a kidney from someone else. That is exactly what happened.

On Aug. 12, she donated her kidney at Brigham and Women’s, while Travis sat with her mother in the waiting room, keeping her company. She later recovered at her parents home, Fred and Debbie Godin, in Skowhegan.

Travis was overwhelmed with gratitude, he told me Dec. 2 on the phone.

“That’s a big sacrifice,” he said. “You’re having an organ removed from your body to give to somebody else. I think I thanked Jesi a thousand times. She’s kind of a modest person and didn’t see it as a big deal.”

Godin looks at the donation practically, saying she had a spare kidney, someone needed it and she was happy to oblige.

“Now that it’s over, I don’t even know that it’s gone,” she said.

She said she and Travis, who both are proponents of spreading awareness of the importance of organ donation, have a similar sense of humor and share a joke about their “compatibility.”

“When we started the kidney process, I said, ‘We weren’t a match in high school — maybe we’ll be a match now.'”

While her kidney was not, indeed, a match for him, her donation enabled him to get one.

That enabled Travis and his fiancee, Kath, to start planning for their wedding — something they had put off until he could get a new kidney and become healthier so they could enjoy the marriage celebration.

As I see it, Travis gets three gifts in addition to the gift of life, thanks to Godin. A wedding, birthday and Christmas gift all wrapped into one.

“Gifts don’t get any better than that,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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