Advance with MUSC Health

New Transplant Means This 22-Year-Old Boasts Kidneys from Both a Cousin and an Aunt

Advance With MUSC Health
January 28, 2022
Living donors next to one another.

Taylor Novinger is a senior this year at Columbia International University, a bible college in SC’s capital. Last fall, he took a few weeks off to heal from his second-ever kidney transplant. Now 22-years-old, Taylor has battled kidney disease since he was a kid. He was only 13 when his aunt extended a lifeline, donating her kidney so he could get his life back, go back to being a regular teen.

Since then, Taylor has led a relatively normal life in his hometown of Cheraw, SC. He's even twice participated in Transplant Games of America, an annual multisport festival celebrating transplant recipients, living donors and donor families, who all compete in a variety of games. Taylor's go-to's are basketball and track, although he and his sister Abbey won a bronze medal for ballroom dancing during the 2018 games in Salt Lake City.

He’s proud of all the places that kidney has taken him.

But it was also during high school that he began to have more kidney difficulties. From a troubled liver to hypertension, the complications meant that Taylor's one remaining kidney — that of his mother’s sister – took a hit. By the end of last year, it was clear that it was time for another transplant. He and his family immediately started working with MUSC Health to get the ball rolling.

As the donor match process began last year, Taylor continued going to school. It was his junior year of college, and he didn’t want to skip a beat — even though he was suffering from stage-three kidney failure.

"That spring semester it was kind of rough," he says. "I just went to school, ate, slept and took a lot of naps."

While Taylor stayed busy going to class and awaiting promising donor news, another family member was stepping up to the plate and getting registered as a kidney donor with the MUSC Health Living Donor Program. This time, his cousin Drew Phillips, a 38-year-old wife and mother of three, would provide the lifeline.

Based in Portsmouth, Ohio, Drew remembers when her little cousin in SC had to undergo surgery eight years ago. “I knew even then that we were the same blood type and that I would help him if he needed me,” she says. “It was something I felt like I was being called to do.”

In August, Drew was confirmed as a match and MUSC worked with her and Taylor to set a surgery date for October 13, 2021. Drew admits that in the weeks leading up to the surgery, she received mixed reactions to the news. While family and friends were really supportive, others couldn’t believe she was going to go to such extraordinary lengths for someone, even a family member.

"Sometimes when people hear it, it kind of takes them aback just a little bit, like what in the world are you doing?” she says. “But you definitely have to go with your gut instinct and do what you personally feel is right. I felt God’s direction and calling in helping Taylor. My motto was and remains ‘faith over fear.’”

And she did. Drew stuck with her convictions and continued on the path she was meant to be on, making a special journey to MUSC Health in Charleston for the procedure.

At three weeks post-op, both Taylor and Drew are healing well. In fact, Taylor is impressed by Drew, noting that she was up and moving around well within two days of surgery. He feels like that is another good reason to donate. “I say do it,” he says. “I know it's a difficult decision, but the recovery time is pretty good for the living donor.”

And the rewards for all are incomparable. He should know. From feeling the love of his community to getting the gift of a better, longer, stronger life, Taylor is amazed at the difference a donation makes.

“I mean, it's just a simple act of kindness for me,” he continues. “If I didn't have all these conditions and I had learned about living donation, I probably would've given up one of mine, you know?”

These days, he’s breathing easier after receiving the best form of support a family can give: part of themselves. Neither of his current kidneys are his originals; each came from a family member. He credits his family and strong support system as well as his faith with his ability to heal and move on.

“Without my faith, I would have probably never been able to get through this,” he says. “Just my church, the people, the town — there's no better place than this town. I've just had such loving people that care about one another here.”

Besides the promise of returning to school and being active again in his community, what will really motivate Taylor to swiftly get his strength back is next summer’s Transplant Games. “I have to get where I can play this coming summer,” he says. “We’re going to San Diego.”

Who knows, maybe he’ll even snag another medal.

To learn more about the MUSC Health Living Donor Program, go here or call 843-792-5097. You may register as a kidney donor here.