OPINION: A senator’s fight to save his son

Mar. 9,  2017 - Atlanta - Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who is a volunteer firefighter, gives a fist pump to firefighters in the Senate gallery after the passage of House Bill 146, sponsored by state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, and backed by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.  The Georgia Senate unanimously backed a measure Thursday offering firefighters special insurance policies to cover treatment of certain work-related cancers, bringing it a crucial step closer toward final passage. The 30th legislative day of the 2017 Georgia General Assembly.   BOB ANDRES  /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Caption
Mar. 9, 2017 - Atlanta - Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who is a volunteer firefighter, gives a fist pump to firefighters in the Senate gallery after the passage of House Bill 146, sponsored by state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, and backed by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. The Georgia Senate unanimously backed a measure Thursday offering firefighters special insurance policies to cover treatment of certain work-related cancers, bringing it a crucial step closer toward final passage. The 30th legislative day of the 2017 Georgia General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Sen. John Albers and his son will undergo kidney transplant surgery Wednesday

The last time I saw state Sen. John Albers, he had just left his job as the chief technology officer for a law firm in Atlanta.

The Republican from Roswell had gone viral on Twitter in March for all the wrong reasons, accused by anti-Trump activists of supporting an early version of state’s elections bill he never voted on at all. But the controversy cost him his job anyway.

What few people knew at the time was that Albers’ oldest son, Will, was also in full kidney failure and receiving dialysis three days a week to keep him alive.

The 24-year-old had been gravely ill since the summer, when his family initially assumed a weight loss and complaints of fatigue were simply signs of his being a bit run down.

“But he called one night and said he was so tired he had to pull over and take a nap during what was a half-hour drive,” Albers recalled. “Then he was getting so sick to his stomach that he started to vomit blood. That’s when we knew that we had something serious happening.”

With COVID still raging through the state, Albers family took Will to a doctor, who sent them to the hospital. Almost immediately he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit with no function in either kidney. Doctors later told them Will had nearly died.

“No parent should ever see their child with that many tubes coming out of them,” Albers said. “I never felt so helpless in my life, to be able to do nothing but literally sit there hold his hand and pray for him.”

Why Will’s kidneys shut down, the Albers family may never know for sure.

But they’d known since he was a child that his body had slightly high levels of creatinine, a sign that his body did not flush toxins from his system as efficiently as it should.

A simple medication regime supported his kidney function and Will lived a healthy normal life, playing the drums in his high school band and becoming an Eagle Scout.

After graduating from the University of North Georgia, he moved back to Atlanta, joined the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and got a place of his own. But kidney failure and an intensive dialysis regimen meant moving in with his parents for near full- time care.

It also meant he’d need a kidney transplant, joining the nearly 100,000 people in the country the National Kidney Foundation estimates are also on the list to receive a donor kidney.

That news was grim, since the average wait time to find a suitable donor runs an average of three and a half years. More than 4,000 people die every year waiting for a kidney transplant.

But unlike most other vital organs, kidneys can come from living donors. And direct relatives can be the best donors of all.

Knowing that he and his son shared the same blood type, Albers was tested.

“I would give him anything,” Albers said. “If I had to give him both my kidneys and go on dialysis myself, I would do it.”

Two weeks ago, the Albers family got the news they’d prayed for.

“Will walked in the side door of the house and I just walked up to him and I held my arms out and said, ‘I’m a perfect match.’”

In a way, the most remarkable piece of the Albers’ story is what came next.

Throughout the year-long odyssey of Will’s illness, as his father ran for re-election in his highly contested Roswell-based Senate district, went through the wildly contentious 2021 legislative session, left his job and later got a new one, Sen. Albers never shared the news of Will’s health struggles beyond his immediate family and close circle of friends.

“The biggest reason was because it happened during COVID,” he said. “So many people had so many things going on in life I just thought, ‘I don’t need to add to this.’”

But last week, with the transplant surgery successfully scheduled, Will suggested that his dad post a note to social media.

They could use more prayers than fewer, Will reasoned. And maybe they could help spread the word about living kidney donations, too.

The title of the post on LinkedIn read, “**Prayers requested**.” It shared Will’s story of kidney failure, dialysis, and the upcoming transplant.

“The power of prayer is awesome and (I) ask you to add us to your list,” Albers wrote.

Within the last two weeks, the post has been viewed more than ten million times. As of last Friday, Albers had received 44,000 comments and nearly 45,000 direct messages.

The messages came from six continents, many with personal stories. Prayers from all faiths came from as far away as Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.

Someone started a meal train. A stranger offered to cut his grass.

The overwhelming response has convinced him and Will to find a way to educate people on the signs of kidney failure and the need to know family health histories.

And frankly, Albers said, after a year of death threats, job troubles and toxic politics, the kindness from strangers has restored his faith in humanity.

“Sadly, there’s good and evil in this world and it can take any form,” he said. “I saw some of the absolute worst of it. And now I have seen the absolute best of it.”

In adjoining operating rooms Wednesday morning, John Albers will have one of his kidneys removed and transplanted into his first-born son.

And life for both of them, he says, will go on.