Advance with MUSC Health

"You Never Know Who You May Help" - Kevin's Story

Advance With MUSC Health
March 25, 2022
Kevin Carson

As a transplant specialist at MUSC Health’s Transplant Center,

Kevin Carson is accustomed to playing an important role in a patient's transplantation team. But it wasn't until he became an organ transplant patient himself that he would come to understand every facet of what many transplant patients experience, from diagnosis to dialysis to surgery.

Every transplant patient's experience is unique, to be sure. But much of their stories – the discomfort and limits of everyday life, anxiety over the future, the long wait for an organ match – overlap, and Carson can relate to it all. 

For a while, Carson knew something wasn't right. His normal workouts, and even casual, brisk walks began to leave him exhausted. "It was very weird," he said. "I would get really short of breath and tired." He's also a Baptist minister, and his deteriorating health would cause him to cut his sermons in half. "I had to, just so I wouldn't pass out," he said. "Preaching was really, really hard for me." 

Originally from Branchville, Orangeburg, the now-Summerville resident was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) in 2018. ESRD is a condition in which an individual's kidneys go into permanent failure, prompting the need for long-term dialysis or kidney transplantation in order to prolong his or her life. 

The news hit Carson hard. He'd seen firsthand the difficulties patients in need of a transplant go through. 

"I was in denial," he said. "When they started talking about dialysis, it really hit me. I couldn't believe this was actually real."

By the end of 2019, Carson had no choice but to begin hemodialysis. This process involves a strict treatment schedule of connecting a patient to a machine that filters waste from the blood since the kidneys can no longer do this job on their own. But this treatment wasn't sustainable for Carson, whose body was left too exhausted to function. This option was also time-consuming, requiring Carson to go to the clinic three to four hours a day. 

Between his love for the gym and his church and working two jobs – he's also a customer service manager at Walmart – Carson's lifestyle required more than a hemodialysis regimen allowed. He was all too eager to switch to something less limiting: a peritoneal (PD) catheter. And while the two filtration processes are different, once the PD catheter is placed inside the abdominal cavity, it does a similar job of removing toxins from the body, only it allows for more mobility and no daily visits to the clinic. This would be a huge win for this active 32-year-old. 

With the PD catheter inserted, Carson was able to connect to it at night, remove the tube after a full night's sleep, and go about his life as close to normal as possible. Still, it was time-consuming to set up and remove, ensuring everything was clean. "There's a lot that you have to do to prepare for it or get off of it," he said. 

Luckily, the search for a kidney match had already begun. Carson kept up his nightly dialysis routine at home while awaiting good news. 

When the call finally came last fall, Carson was overwhelmed with relief to hear that MUSC had found a match – that of a deceased donor.

As much as he anticipated receiving the new kidney on Oct. 28, the first date he most looked forward to was Oct. 27th: his final day of dialysis.

Since his kidney transplant, life has gotten a lot brighter and busier for Carson, and he loves sharing his experience to comfort and enlighten the patients he works with on a daily basis. 

"I'm able to talk to the patients much better now," he said. "People have so many questions. They want to know what having a transplant is like, and now I'm able to actually answer that question." 

When patients feel as though they are completely depleted of energy, Carson understands. "If I need to talk to them after dialysis and they don't feel like talking, I get that," he said. "I know that you do get tired after that; I understand and will call them back at another time." 

One patient's wife was nervous about a physician's PD catheter recommendation – Carson's calm assurances helped. "So I let her know that I did PD dialysis, and that it's not bad – you just have to keep everything clean so you don't get an infection," he said. "After that, she felt a lot better. It just helps to hear from someone who has already experienced this." 

As for his own experience as a patient, Carson had no fears going into something he was familiar with. He knew what was to come and felt at ease in the hands of his colleagues. Many, in fact, came by to see him after the surgery. 

His advice for other potential transplantation candidates? "MUSC is a great facility of providers who work for you. They walk you through the whole process," he said. 

"You just have to do the homework, and you'll be great. Be in contact with your transplant team: the nurse coordinator, a transplant specialist, and a transplant assistant. There is always somebody there to talk to."

One last round of people he'd like to talk to is his donor's family. If he had the chance, he'd hug the mother first. "I want her to know her child saved my life," he said. "Things were going really bad for me. How was I going to continue living without this kidney? Now I feel much better – I can walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath. I can take long walks. I can go to church with no problem."

Carson's favorite thing post-operation? Swimming. 

"I couldn't swim with the PD catheter," he explained. "I couldn't submerge myself in water, so it may sound strange, but it's little things like that I've missed the most." 

As Carson continues to rebuild his strength and share his story, he hopes that others will consider organ donation. "It's the gift of life. It's the best thing you can do," he said. "You never know who you may help."


Find out more about the MUSC Health Transplant Center.