Greg Newcomer and Chris Spirgel share a common bond and a kidney.
Greg Newcomer and Chris Spirgel have shared a connection since they met nearly 20 years ago. According to Newcomer, the pair attend the same church, have a shared feisty demeanor and almost always see eye-to-eye on issues. But as of three years ago, they share something else: Spirgel’s kidneys.
In April 2015, Spirgel donated one of her kidneys to Newcomer, whose kidneys were failing as a result of proteinuria. Three years later, the donation has not only given Newcomer a renewed lease on life but has created a bond between the two, who now consider themselves like brother and sister.
Newcomer had been dealing with a kidney disease that affected his body’s ability to filter protein for nearly 25 years when he learned that his kidneys were no longer stable. His nephrologist offered him two options: receive dialysis every day or receive a kidney transplant.
An active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, Newcomer informed his fellow church members that he and his wife would be taking a less active role in the church. A group of five church members asked him why, and he told them of his health situation. Much to his amazement, all five members offered to get tested to see if they were a donor match.
“I was just kind of flabbergasted about that — just to say five people would go do that was great,” Newcomer said.
Newcomer’s family, along with the five church-goers were tested, and when the results came back, Spirgel was a match. There was a waiting period before the donation took place, and Sprigel said she used this time to carefully consider her decision.
“I have three children, and of course, I considered whether or not they might need a kidney one day,” Spirgel said. “I came down on the side of ‘Greg needs one now,’ and if their time should ever come, I would hope that someone would step forward for them.”
On April 30, 2015, the pair underwent surgery. Spirgel was in the hospital for three days and felt lousy for about a week. She said she didn’t have a whole lot of energy initially, but it didn’t take long for her to bounce back.
After the surgery, Newcomer was continually watched for a year. To this day, he continues to take anti-rejection medication. He’s not only incredibly grateful to have received a kidney, but that it was Spirgel’s kidney. He said given that she was in such good health, he has not had any subsequent kidney issues since the donation.
In the years that followed, Spirgel has become like a sister to Newcomer. He said he calls her when issues arise or sometimes just to see how she’s doing. He said Spirgel is bright, compassionate and one of the hardest-working people he knows.
“It’s almost like a family relationship in a sense we have now,” Newcomer said. “That’s a precious gift in itself.”
Newcomer said not only did the donation save his life, but it gave him a new outlook. In the years since the donation, he has also had three operations related to cancer in his thyroid and his lymph nodes. He said these days, he values time and the importance of speaking out in a new way.
“Sometimes you need to speak out and speak up,” Newcomer said. “That’s what Chris did. She spoke up and said, ‘I’ll do it.’”
On April 30, Newcomer was given a clean bill of health by Penn Medicine.
“The kind of lease on life that I have now is a tremendous difference from what anyone who has kidney disease has, which is always kind of trying to make sure tomorrow is going to be there. With kidney disease, there are not a lot of guarantees,” Newcomer said. “If you’re in a position to be a giver for that, the gift given is unimaginable.”
To learn more about organ donation, visit https://www.organdonor.gov.