Kidney transplant seals father and son's bond

Whether it's a kidney transplant or spinal surgery, the Dominick family of Concord believe they can find something good in every situation.

In 2000, Jay and Betty Dominick's oldest son, Boyce, 8 at the time, and Thomas, 4 at the time, were both diagnosed with conorenal syndrome, rare disease that causes bone abnormalities and scarring of the kidneys.

Boyce was lucky enough not to need a kidney transplant. According to Jay, Boyce went through the most difficult stage of his life to date, puberty, and his kidneys still work. The doctors said Boyce might need one in the future, but for now he's in good condition.

A couple of years after the boys' diagnosis, doctors found Thomas had an abnormally curved spine - scoliosis. Over time, the curvature of his spine became so severe that doctors said he would need surgery.

In 2007, doctors told Jay and Betty that Thomas, then 11, would also need a kidney transplant in the near future.

Eventually, Jay and Betty faced a difficult decision.

Doctors told them earlier this year that doing the spine surgery first might put too much stress on Thomas' weak kidney, Betty said. But tackling a kidney transplant first would leave Thomas in a lot of pain because of the drastic curvature of his spine.

"There's no guidebook for parents on this," said Jay. "You just try to make the best decision you can and don't second-guess yourself."

But the curve of Thomas' spine continued to worsen, and his back was very painful. Doctors suggested he undergo spine surgery first, but they were prepared for a failed kidney in the event it happened.

The spine surgery took place in late May.

"It was the most stressful day of my life," said Jay, who is vice chancellor for information technology at UNC Charlotte. "Thomas had to get a lot of blood, but he persevered, and the doctors did a great job."

Five days after surgery, Thomas was put on hemodialysis. He was hooked up to a machine that would pump blood out of his chest, remove the toxins and pump it back in.

That required the Dominick family to drive to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte twice a week, for a three-hour stay each time.

"We'd make a family outing of it," said Jay. "We'd take the Xbox with us, and his brother would play games with him."

When you see your kid hooked up to a machine, Jay said, you'd do anything in the world to trade places with him. Even if parents are mentally ready for their child's ordeal, they can't be emotionally ready.

Thomas was on hemodialysis for four months, right up to the day before his kidney transplant last month.

Jay knew right from the start he would be the best kidney donor for his son. He spent a lot of time making sure he was healthy by eating right, working out and keeping his weight down.

According to Jay, doctors ask a lot of lifestyle questions about a person's health, eating habits and exercise routine before allowing anyone to be an organ donor.

Jay spent a lot of time making sure he was healthy by eating right, working out and keeping his weight down.

"I'd been so emotionally committed to being a donor for so long that being told 'no' would have been devastating," said Jay. "I tear up every time I think about it."

On Sept. 20, Thomas and Jay had their transplant surgery.

Two weeks later, Thomas said, he felt "a hundred times better" than he did before.

"I feel like I have a lot more energy," said Thomas, who wants to be a video game designer when he grows up. "I feel more like going out, going walking. I definitely feel I can eat a lot better. My attitude is a lot better. I look a lot healthier, for sure. I feel a lot healthier."

Now Thomas and his father spend a lot of time together reading, watching TV and playing their favorite video game, Halo, on the Xbox.

"From birth this boy wanted his daddy," Betty said. "... Now he has a part of him."

For Thomas, having a part of his dad with him is a really "cool thing."

"It's a really thoughtful thing for him to do," said Thomas. "He didn't have to, but he did it anyway."

The only reminder to Jay that he has only one kidney is the sore spot on his back. He plans to continue to stay active, eat right and stay healthy.

"You see people struggling with greater worries and are cheerful and are getting through it, and you realize you have it good," said Jay.

Boyce, now 19, is a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill studying information science and English. Thomas, 15, attends Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord.

For the Dominicks, life is all about living every day to its fullest and making every day count. And a positive attitude in life makes all the difference.

"We aren't promised tomorrow," said Betty. "You've got to live for today."