Bellmore native Geff Gruber was 26 when he was surprised to learn that he had a rare kidney disorder: He had been born with only one. Now 31, Gruber is the recipient of a donated kidney from someone who only weeks ago was a stranger in Texas.
“Pretty much the week after the transplant, I was fine,” said Gruber, who underwent the operation late last month at NYU Langone Health in New York City. “There’s minimal pain.”
Gruber said he lived an active lifestyle before he was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS. He was a landscaper and a bodybuilder. Doctors first noticed a high level of creatinine in his blood, and a sonogram later revealed that he only had one kidney.
“I was surprised,” Gruber said, “but my parents were more upset and shocked than anything.”
Because he had had only 50 percent kidney function since birth, his lone kidney deteriorated over time. It had to work overtime, unbeknown to Gruber, which eventually caused permanent scarring.
Although he never felt severe symptoms, he began to feel dizzy and weak at work last June. He went to the hospital and was put on dialysis.
“Then I couldn’t work anymore,” he said. “Every time you overexert yourself — going upstairs, running — you get winded very easily.” Finding a donor became even more imperative: Gruber’s kidney had deteriorated too much to sustain itself, and he couldn’t stay on dialysis for too long.
As a result of his treatment, health insurance costs skyrocketed. Gruber’s sister, Noelle, kicked off a social media campaign with a GoFundMe page and a search for a potential donor. As of early this month, the GoFundMe campaign had raised $15,530, exceeding the goal of $15,000.
Gruber thanked the organization Stands, which works with celebrities to create merchandise that benefits charity. It shared Gruber's GoFundMe page on Twitter along with a promotion that those who contributed $20 would receive free merchandise.
Stands helped raise roughly $9,000 for Gruber's GoFundMe in less than 48 hours.
The search for a donor started when “Supernatural” — one of Gruber’s favorite shows — was coming to an end. With a “Supernatural” theme, Noelle posted a photo of her brother on Twitter to try to catch fans’ attention.
From there, the search reached a popularity that neither had expected. The post was shared by celebrities of “Supernatural” fame, including Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins.
The campaign eventually caught the attention of Lauren Angelini, a Texas resident. Angelini got tested to see if she was a match, and she was.
Angelini flew to New York for the operation. She and Gruber met face to face for the first time in the hospital before the operation, where they bonded over their love for the show.
“It was the right thing to do,” Angelini told the Herald. “I did my research, and there are no long-term effects. It was easy to do, and a benefit for him.”
“It really shows the power of social media,” Noelle said. “It’s incredible what people will do for a stranger.”
“‘Supernatural’ saved my life,” Gruber said.
He had been on the wait list at NYU to receive a kidney from a deceased donor, but that wait could have taken over a decade. A kidney from a living donor means it will have a longevity of 20 years or more.
As for lifestyle changes, Gruber will need to eat healthy and lightly exercise. He needs to be extra careful with common household activities, for now — he can’t put his hands in his fish tank to feed his fish, and he can’t sleep with his cats, and risk scratches. It will take him more than a year to fully heal.
He has been sharing his story on social media and hopes to provide inspiration for others who might be in a similar position. Potential donors or anyone with questions can reach Gruber via his Instagram, @bbmaktiger, or email, email@example.com.