Robert Brink Paula Wilson

Robert Brink and his sister, Paula Wilson. Paula is donating one of her kidneys to her brother on Wednesday, May 8.

Litchfield Park resident Robert Brink’s transplanted liver has improved his quality of life for more than seven years. However, the anti-rejection medication destroyed a kidney.

On May 8, his sister, Paula Wilson, will give her 67-year-old brother a kidney at the Mayo Clinic.

“Only 40% of my kidneys worked when I had my liver transplant,” said Brink, who has dialysis Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“The medication took seven and a half years to deteriorate what was left. I knew it was coming. It just creeped up quicker than I thought.”

When the time came, Brink said he scrambled for a live donor. Doctors recommended he start with his family to see if one of them is a match. His next steps would have been to try friends. If he would have had to resort to a cadaver transplant, he said he would have to wait about two to three years.  

“I talked to my family, and my wife was going to donate,” he said. “Paula just happened to be the first match.”

First transplant

Brink underwent a liver transplant in 2012 and had a near-death experience while waiting for the organ. When the liver was placed inside of him, doctors quickly realized it was infected. His body began deteriorating and doctors gave him 36 hours to live.

Miraculously, doctors found another liver and flew to California on a moment’s notice to intercept the organ. Brink’s new liver saved his life.

“It was a traumatic situation,” Brink said. “I was ready to go no matter what cards were dealt.”

This event inspired Brink to start his own nonprofit foundation, B for Life, whose mission is to educate people about the importance of organ donation. The company hopes to one day ease the fears of organ donation.

“People are afraid to sign up,” Brink said. “We’re not taking your heart or your liver now just because you signed up to be a donor. But when that time comes, you can help save a life somewhere down the road.”

According to the National Foundation for Transplants, 114,927 patients are on the transplant waiting list, of which 95% need a kidney or liver. About 650,000 Americans are facing end-stage renal disease, and 468,000 Americans are on dialysis. The average kidney recipient waits 679 days for a transplant, which costs $28,600.

Wilson didn’t think twice when Brink approached her about his need for a transplant.

“My brother needs to have a kidney to live,” said Wilson, whose husband, Russell, had a liver transplant as well, within months of Brink. “I wanted to help him. It’s as simple as that.

“I didn’t want him to spend one minute more on dialysis than he needed to. I’m pretty healthy and a good match for him.”

Nonprofit organizations like B for Life and the Transplant Games hope to combat the issues involving transplant by educating others. The Transplant Games also create community among the transplant patients and increase the number of donors. Brink’s ill health forced him to sit out of the Transplant Games of America last summer. This was his fourth time at the games.

“In the back of my mind, I knew the need for a transplant was coming,” he said. “Reality set in when I was at the Transplant Games in the summer. I couldn’t function. I was so out of shape and not feeling well at all. I spent two years fundraising to get there so I went anyway to support everybody else.

“I shouldn’t have gone.”

The next Transplant Games are in 2020 in New Jersey. To help the Arizona team get there, donate at transplantteamaz.org.

He appreciates Wilson’s efforts.

“It was a big decision on her part,” he said. “She has a family and kids. Words cannot express the feelings I have for her.”