One year later: Doctors linked by transplant celebrate on Swiss trip

The two colleagues hope their story raises awareness of the need for and significance of unrelated living donors.

By Damon Adams — Posted Dec. 5, 2005

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Before the surgery, the two doctors were colleagues. After surgery, they were more like brothers.

Last year, Charles Tesar, MD, donated a kidney to Richard Fassett, MD, who was a mentor during Dr. Tesar's residency and later worked with him in surgery. But in the year since the successful transplant, the two San Diego doctors have formed a closer bond they say makes them feel like family.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the kidney transplant, the doctors traveled together with their wives to Switzerland this summer and spent two weeks hiking in the Swiss Alps. As part of their journey, they made their way to the top of Breithorn Mountain, which stands about 14,000 feet high near the Matterhorn.

"It was really a great opportunity to say, 'Hey, you know what, I'm living large just like I used to.' We've got to climb a higher mountain now," said Dr. Tesar, 55, an otolaryngologist.

Dr. Tesar started his residency in 1980 under Dr. Fassett at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. A few years after finishing his residency, Dr. Tesar joined a medical group in San Diego. Dr. Fassett worked at the hospital where Dr. Tesar performed surgeries.

Soon after that, Dr. Fassett became the primary assistant surgeon for Dr. Tesar and other surgeons in his group. Each Tuesday, the doctors operated together at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.

A few years ago, Dr. Fassett started having problems with fatigue. Lab work indicated genetic kidney disease. The hereditary disease ruled out family members as donors.

Dr. Tesar found out about his colleague's need for a kidney as the two scrubbed for surgery together one day. Two weeks later, Dr. Fassett told Dr. Tesar that his wife was not a possible donor. That's when Dr. Tesar offered one of his kidneys.

Giving the gift of life

On the morning of July 7, 2004, the kidney transplant was done at Sharp Memorial Hospital. The surgery was a success, and neither doctor experienced complications. Their recovery rooms were next door to each other, and Dr. Fassett visited Dr. Tesar the following day.

Dr. Fassett, 66, returned to work after six weeks and now has a family medicine practice. It took Dr. Tesar 2½ months to get back to normal, and he's now active and busy at work.

The transplant clearly has brought them closer.

"We've gotten together more than we ever did before," Dr. Fassett said. "It's hard not to become almost like family after an event like this."

The two doctors go out to dinner. They celebrate birthdays together.

"We see each other much more often," Dr. Tesar said, adding, "We really enjoy having two healthy kidneys."

Dr. Fassett wanted to thank his friend and mark the one-year anniversary with something special. He invited Dr. Tesar to Switzerland. The two men and their wives made their celebratory journey in August.

"It ended up being quite a memorable trip," Dr. Tesar said.

Both men hope their story raises awareness of the importance of unrelated living donors. "Unrelated donors can work, and both parties can have active, meaningful lives," Dr. Fassett said.

The American Medical Association has voiced support for living donors. At its Annual Meeting in June, delegates approved new ethics policy to serve as a guide to physicians involved in transplanting organs from living donors.

That policy states that every donor should be assigned an advocate team, which includes a physician, that is concerned with the well-being of the donor. The policy also says it is ethically appropriate for donors to designate a recipient, whether it's a close relative or a known, unrelated person.

Dr. Tesar and Dr. Fassett said more people need to realize that unrelated living donors can give a life-saving gift. "It can really give someone a new zest for life," Dr. Tesar said.

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