Alan and Jess Checca
Certified nursing assistant
Kidney donor for her father
Third kidney transplant
Daughter gives her father
a kidney and a renewed life
Jess Checca would sadly watch her father slumped down into their living room chair four hours a day, three times a week, vacantly staring at the television while attached to a hemodialysis machine. Though there was sunshine outside of the Checca’s Derry Township home there wasn’t much brightness inside.
This was a guy who had so much energy, worked hard, rode a motorcycle and constantly ran calls as an EMT,” Jess sullenly said while recalling her dad’s condition. “His health was getting so bad, and he was so weak; he couldn’t even walk. It just wasn’t my dad.”
Since he was 16, Alan has been dealing with kidney failure from glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys’ filters. Sometimes the disease is caused by an illness or infection, while other times it’s a hereditary condition. In Alan’s case, the cause is not known, but it’s a disease that has significantly affected his entire adult life.
Now 47, Alan has had two kidney transplants from non-living donors – the first lasted 12 years and the second started to fail after 10. As long as she can remember, Jess said her father remained his spirited self through it all, continuing to work several jobs and enjoying life the best he could.
But Alan had to be placed on the transplant list for a third time, where he remained for five years while on dialysis. His wife of 26 years, Kristin, was evaluated to determine if she was a suitable donor, as did their son, Johnathon, now 24, but neither was compatible. Jess was only 15 then, so she wasn’t tested.
In the last few months of that fifth year, Alan’s health declined rapidly. Jess remembers her dad feeling deflated and defeated at that point. “I couldn’t watch anything else happen to him,” she said. Shortly after Jess’ 20th birthday, she decided to call Allegheny Health Network and have the transplant team test her for donor kidney eligibility.
”I didn’t look into it when I was 18 because I’m on the small side, and I wanted to make sure I was strong and healthy enough,” Jess said. “So when I turned 20, I felt ready, and I found out I was a match. It was a pretty easy decision for me. I really wanted to do it and help my dad get out of that condition.”
She explained how the transplant team – physicians, nurses, a transplant coordinator and a patient advocate – guided her through the decision process. “They made sure that I was prepared and that it was what I really wanted to do.”
To say the least, Alan said, he was shocked when his daughter told him that she had been screened and was an eligible donor.
“My daughter took it upon herself to be tested, doing it all on her own without telling me. As a father, you want to protect your children and not have any harm come to them, so I was reluctant to have her do it,” Alan said while glancing proudly over at his daughter. “But after talking with the transplant professionals and family and friends, I realized she was giving me an incredible gift.
I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t be here today if she had not done this for me.”
The Checcas both described their April 2013 surgeries as successful and life-changing events. Jess returned to work as a nursing assistant six weeks after surgery, and her six-month checkup showed that she is in excellent health.
“The staff took such good care of me during surgery, staying by my side through all of it,” Jess said. “I had a nurse rubbing my hand before I went into surgery and the same nurse holding my hand when I woke up. And now, here we are, with my dad practically back to normal.”
Alan has been doing very well since his third transplant. Now without the shackles of dialysis, he is back to living an active life. He’s a school police officer for the Derry Area School District and hopes to return to the sign making industry soon, a job that he has loved for 20 years. Alan serves on the Derry Borough Council and belongs to the Westmoreland Council Animal Response Team, which addresses animal-related needs after a natural disaster.
With such a love for animals, he is also taking courses to become a K9 medic.
“Our community was such a tremendous help to me and my family through the transplant process,” Alan said. “I want to always try to reach out and give back. I can’t answer ambulance and fire calls anymore as an EMT, so I’ve shifted gears to find new ways to help.”
From nearby, Jess listened and smiled at her dad, who donned a leather jacket and exuded both inner and outer strength that she had not seen in such a long time.
“I’m just so glad I did it,” she said, “and grateful that I could.”