Life goes like this: everyone is born with a destiny; to make their mark on Earth before their time runs out. For many people, a new purpose in life comes at a much later age. That was not the case for Michael Reed.
In 2014, the 16-year-old sophomore from MacArthur High School received a kidney transplant from his father. That miraculous gift not only bestowed upon Reed another chance at life, but the opportunity to become bigger than what he thought he could be.
“I had cancer when I was born. The doctors found out a few months later because my mom also had cancer when she gave birth,” said Reed. “They don’t know the cause, but feel like that had something to do with it.”
Reed’s parents did not tell their son his diagnosis until the age of 12, when he learned that he needed a new kidney because of vesicoureteral reflux, which is how his kidney disease occurred.
“When I found out why, I understood and knew that I needed it fast. Doctors told me that I would never go on dialysis, that it would never happen, and then it happened,” said Reed, who was 80 pounds when he endured peritoneal dialysis—which utilizes the inside lining of the stomach, as it acts as a natural filter—for seven months. “I was on the transplant list for a matching donor for a long time, but was on it for so long that doctors turned to family. That’s when we found out that my cousin and dad were a match.”
Since Reed’s cousin lived in Oregon, the close proximity of his father meant that he was about to receive the best gift ever from one of his parents. Reed recovered from his transplant quickly, but bumps in the road after multiple biopsies led to him becoming sick because of how much time he spent in the hospital.
“I got whooping cough, which lasted a month or so. No doctor knew because I tested negative, but I found out when I got a call from the school saying that whooping cough was going around,” said Reed, who possibly caught the cough after a visit from some of his friends, as he was out of school for a full year and was home-schooled.
If it wasn’t for a second opinion at Stony Brook University Hospital, Reed never would have been accepted into the hospital’s Kidney Transplantation Program. Founded in 1981, it is the oldest and most active renal transplant program on Long Island. Reed was recently invited to speak at Stony Brook University Medical Center about the importance of being an organ donor in recognition of National Organ Donor Appreciation Day. He spoke to executives, doctors and people who went through what he did.
“They completely understood, because it was a real story. I mostly spoke about why it is so important to donate, especially because the percentage of donors in New York is so low,” said Reed, who has made it his mission to encourage people to become organ donors. “They either have the heart on their license or they don’t, but to me, it’s like rescuing a dog. It’s just something you should do.”
Although Reed understands that different ethnic and religious backgrounds may prohibit people from donating their organs after they die, for those who are considering on becoming a donor, Reed wants to make it known that no matter what, it saves lives. Always volunteering whenever he can, whether it is a walk or event, Reed received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, for his work at the hospital.
“I was amazed and I felt accomplished. The fact that I received it, it wasn’t so much hard work, it was more of a hobby for me because of the hospital and what I enjoyed doing there,” said Reed, whose father also worked at Stony Brook Medical Center. “I went there Monday, Wednesday and Friday and did it the next summer as well. I received more than 600 hours, and on the award was a signature from President Obama himself.”
With a bright future ahead, Reed hopes to pursue a career in nephrology. It is his determination, and he feels, his mission, to help people in need and encourage others to become organ donors.
“I remember I was in the hospital for a biopsy and there was a boy next to me with his parents; they were very religious. He said that God puts us on this Earth to see who the strongest is. I was in shock that this came from a child,” said Reed, who wants to live by that mantra.
Reed realizes that he was lucky to have someone in his family willing to donate a kidney and, to this day, is eternally grateful. Since his recovery, he has served on the medical center’s youth advisory committee; volunteers his time with the medical center’s transportation department, transporting beds and materials to the various departments within the hospital, volunteers for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS) and raised $1,000 with his school’s Key Club for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, among many other accolades.
The now healthy teen still goes for routine checkups, but hasn’t been in a while, which is a good thing. Although he is prohibited from playing contact sports, he enjoys tennis and plays on the school team. But Reed’s passion is simply volunteering and helping people feel better.
“Don’t let the littlest things get to you. Surgery isn’t the biggest thing to me anymore because I’ve been through so much,” he said. “Never give up and never let anything stop you from doing what you want, because you can always find away.”
To view Reed’s speaking engagement at Stony Brook Medical Center, visit https://youtu.be/P_s9Vhn4hl4.