Theater connection casts kidney in lifesaving role

erik-paschke-and-brian-welch-at-hospitalBy SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – When Brian Welch joined the Downriver Actors Guild, he had no idea it would cast him and a newfound friend in the the role of kidney recipient and donor.

Welch, 42, of Dearborn, who was diagnosed at age 12 with Type I diabetes, an autoimmune disease, also has high blood pressure. Over time, both conditions took a toll on his kidneys, and in October 2015 he was placed on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.

As his renal function declined, Welch knew that he could be on a kidney donation waiting list for five to seven years.

Welch said theater friend Michele Devins of Southgate wanted to help him, but wasn’t his blood type. When he was introduced to the University of Michigan Transplant Center’s Paired Partner Program, he discovered an exchange that allows recipients with incompatible donors to trade donors with another incompatible pair. Once the medical evaluations are complete, the organ donations and transplants were scheduled to occur simultaneously.


Photos courtesy of Michele Devins Erik Paschke (above), of Riverview with Brian Welch of Dearborn at the University of Michigan Health Care System on June 9, one day after the kidney transplant, and (below) on Sept. 17, more than three months after the transplant.

Erik Paschke said he was assistant directing “The Full Monty” at DAG, in which Welch and Devins were both cast, when Devins started asking members their blood type.

“She just happened to say, ‘Hey, is anybody O-negative?’” Paschke said. “And I said, ‘I am!’ and she said, ‘Why don’t you go get tested if you want to donate a kidney?’ and I was like, ‘Whatever. I’m never going to match.’ So that’s how I ended up doing it.”

The kidney health of potential donors is evaluated to see if their organ donation will last a long time, Welch said.

“They have to make sure there have been no signs of kidney stones, that it’s a healthy kidney,” Welch said. “They looked at our ages. We were initially supposed to be with a paired partner. (Paschke) was going to give his kidney to someone else who was older, and I was going to get a younger kidney from someone else. Then the other recipient fell ill.”

Paschke’s Human Leukocyte Antigens, which help the body’s immune system’s defense against bacteria and viruses, were then tested. The closer a match he was with an organ recipient, the less likely the recipient’s body would reject the organ.

They also checked Paschke for medical issues like high blood pressure to make sure he did not have any health conditions that could compromise his remaining kidney.

The organ donation occurred June 8, and Paschke was discharged four days later. Welch was in for a week and a half, because the kidney wasn’t getting adequate blood flow, and the surgeons had to create more room for it by inserting hernia mesh in his abdomen.

Three months later, Welch said he is feeling great.

“I don’t take naps,” Welch said. “I used to go home after work and just crash. I’m feeling great. I have more energy.”

He said other people have commented on how much healthier he looks.

Welch said he feels very fortunate that Paschke came forward as a kidney donor.

“It’s a big deal. I was terrified,” Welch said. “Medically, things don’t go right for me. I have diabetes, high blood pressure. I just always get the short end of the stick when it comes to medical problems. It’s given me a better quality of life.”

Paschke said he just knew that donating a kidney was “the right thing to do.”

“I just thought that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Paschke said. “Help someone out that needs help.”

Paschke said the first week or two after surgery he didn’t feel that great, but after that he felt fine.

“I rode my bike 40 miles four weeks post surgery, so I was fine,” Paschke said. “Only having one kidney instead of two doesn’t shorten your life. I doesn’t cause you any more problems. There’s no bad things that happen to you.

“Barring car accidents, there is really nothing bad that happens to your kidneys. If you get an infection, it takes them both out.”

Welch said some people wait five to seven years on a transplant list. He said he was expecting to get a cadaver, because then he could get a pancreas, too, and have a double transplant.

Welch continues to go for tissue matching each month, because he is also on the list awaiting to receive a pancreas organ donation.

Paschke said donating a kidney is major surgery, and it is harder on the donor than the recipient.

“I go from 100 percent to 50 percent, and he goes from zero to 50 kind of thing,” Paschke said.
He said his wife was very supportive of his decision.

“She knew as soon as I matched that I was going to do it,” Paschke said.

(Sue Suchyta can be reached at