Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. The first article ran in Friday’s edition of the Daily Times.
The testing was over. The decision has been made. The moment had finally arrived.
Josh Presley and Samantha Bryant were being prepped for kidney-transplant surgery. After the IVs began flowing and the monitors were hooked up, Josh and Bryant had nothing to do but wait. However, as the minutes passed, the anxiety grew.
The nervousness and anticipation grew even further when an emergency forced a delay in Josh and Bryant’s surgery. During that delay, with Josh and Bryant in adjacent beds, Josh got out of his bed, went to see Bryant and gave her a hug. With their anxiety overwhelming them and tears pouring down their faces, Bryant and Josh shared one last embrace before undergoing the life-altering transformation.
“He comforted me from that whole aspect of it’s going to be OK, you just go to sleep and you wake up,” Bryant said. “He was the one that comforted me a lot when I was back there, besides (boyfriend) Scott McKenzie. He did help my nervousness.”
The subtle sentiments and the reassurance in that one moment washed away Bryant and Josh’s fears, and they knew it was time — they both agreed, “Let’s do this.”
“It was a really touching moment,” Rick Presley, Josh’s father, said.
Donating her kidney was the first real surgery Bryant has ever undergone, besides wisdom teeth removal. In comparison, Bryant said Josh was about to undergo his seventh surgery.
“He was really comforting in that aspect because he’s done it so many times,” Bryant said. “He said, ‘Let’s do this’ and it just made me smile.”
After the embrace, Josh found himself waiting anxiously while Bryant was in surgery, risking her health to give Josh that life he so desperately craved. After approximately 45 minutes, it was Josh’s turn to enter the operation room. Once again, fear and anxiety began to overwhelm a young man who had spent more than a year dreaming of this moment.
As Josh was lying on his hospital bed, being escorted to the operating room, his medical team stopped him in front of a big glass window. Down below was Bryant, with a team of doctors surrounding her, taking care of her. Once again, Josh’s fears quickly disappeared and he repeated those words too Bryant — “Let’s do this.”
Josh’s surgery lasted almost four hours. Once Robin and Rick Presley were able to see their son, the first words out of his mouth were almost predictable but also demonstrated the struggles Josh had faced over the past six years, “Is it over and what is my GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate),” Josh asked his parents in his groggy state.
The question flabbergasted his parents.
“Who would wake up out of surgery and say, ‘What’s my GFR?,’” Rick said.
Bryant, who had laparoscopic surgery, only had to stay in the hospital for three days. On her final day, as she was being released, Bryant went to see Josh.
She entered the room in a wheelchair and stopped by the side of Josh’s bed. He couldn’t turn his neck very well because he had a central line in place, which restricted his movement.
However, when Josh saw Bryant, she stood up from the wheelchair and they hugged each other. They were both crying. He kept saying, “I love you Samantha. You saved my life.” She just cried and said, “God put us together for a reason Josh. I was meant to come here and meet you. God sent me here for you and I believe that.”
“There was not a dry eye in the room,” Robin said. “Even the nurse that walked in, she was crying.”
Josh believes Bryant is his angel and God sent her to save him, but while Bryant doesn’t feel like an angel, she has already agreed to give Josh other organs as needed.
“It makes me feel embarrassed. It’s just the sweetest thing. I told him I’d be happy to do it all over again whenever he needs a lung,” Bryant said jokingly.
“I don’t look at it like I’m saving someone. I feel that it’s my human obligation to help other humans. And I definitely believe everything happens for a reason and we didn’t just come across the country when we did, and him and Jama (Salyers) don’t match, and we end up being a perfect match.”
Whether the family debate on the importance of Bryant’s sacrifice ever gets settled remains to be seen, Bryant believes Robin would have found a way to save Josh’s life — one way or another.
“I had people reminding me that I was saving someone’s life but I was like no, I think Robin would’ve pulled through and found a way in those last few weeks no matter what,” Bryant said. “She was on a mission. The things that she’s done for Josh and made capable for Josh is insane, so I know she wouldn’t have gone down without a fight.”
Thanks to Bryant, Josh finally has his life back. After being placed on a strict diet for the past six years, Josh can finally eat normal food, which is something he doesn’t take for granted.
His first experience came the night after his surgery. Josh was placed on a clear liquid diet, which included jello. They brought him strawberry jello.
He was hesitant at first to try jello because it wasn’t part of the special diet he had grown accustomed to as his old kidney continued to deteriorate. His parents were anxious also but they told Josh to try the jello.
Josh took a bite of that jello and he busted out crying.
“Is this what this tastes like?,” Josh questioned. “This is the best stuff I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
Josh hadn’t enjoyed any type of sweet substance in years and as his old kidney continued to get worse, his diet became even more strict. But now, he was getting to enjoy the taste of food all over again — and it was overwhelming.
“He just busted out crying over jello of all things,” Rick said.
Once he was discharged from the hospital, his first dinner at home was spaghetti and to Josh, the sensations were new but the feelings were old: they took him back to a place where he felt normal again.
“I felt normal, getting to eat regular food,” Josh said. “I felt like I was in high school. This is the best food I’ve ever tasted.”
Every time he picks up a glass of milk or anything sweet, he has a brief moment of anxiety from years of regulations, but once the substance touches his taste buds, his face illuminates with joy.
“It’s pleasing to me and Rick to see his reaction to every bite or the first time he tasted something that he hasn’t had in so long, his eyes get real big and he says, ‘Man this is good,’” Robin said. “There is just so much excitement in his voice.”
The last six years have also taken their toll on Robin too. She has been so restrictive on Josh, trying to keep him healthy, now she gets to spoil her son once again. The major disagreement has been over chips and salsa, which has been something Josh has long desired to taste.
The first time he bit into one after his surgery, he couldn’t believe the taste.
” It was delicious,” Josh said. “The first bite was so delicious.”
Now, Robin keeps extra chips and salsa on hand for whenever Josh comes looking for a midnight snack.
“Whenever he says, ‘Chips and salsa mom,’ I’m like, I gotcha,” Robin said jokingly.
With Bryant’s donation, Josh not only got his life back, he was able to stay alive. He’ll never forget who made that possible.
“She’s my angel,” Josh said.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.