Transplant bonds Pirate alumni

When Austen Butler ’14 and Tyler Dandrea ’13 met as 18-year-old freshmen at East Carolina University, they had few concerns other than preparations for a big midterm or whether there was a party to attend that weekend. Before long, they became fraternity brothers and roommates. But halfway through their time at ECU, their focus shifted to something more serious when Butler was diagnosed with Berger’s disease, a condition that causes kidney inflammation.

Butler remembers something Dandrea said to him jokingly when they were juniors and didn’t yet understand the severity of Butler’s condition: “If I need to, I can always give you my kidney.”

“It was kind of a joke at first because it felt so far away,” Dandrea said. “I don’t know if he took it seriously at first. But I really meant it when I said it then.”

The two stayed close through college, and just a couple of years after graduation they found themselves in Charlotte, where Butler helped Dandrea get a job at Wyndham Capital, the mortgage company where he was a loan officer. Butler’s health had been pretty steady since his initial diagnosis, when he made some diet and lifestyle changes. But about a year ago, his symptoms worsened, and doctors told him he was headed toward kidney failure.

Dandrea remembers the first thing he asked when Butler told him the news was what type of blood he had. Butler didn’t know, and Dandrea told him he needed to find out as quickly as possible. Their blood types were a match, and Dandrea felt sure about following through about the vow he had made at ECU.

Butler’s father underwent testing first, and when he wasn’t a match Dandrea was still there, as resolved as ever to help his friend live a healthy life again. He was a match, and on Feb. 15, just two months after Butler began dialysis, the two went in for surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

“People think it’s amazing,” Dandrea said. “But I just feel like you don’t want to see a friend go to dialysis every day for four hours. That’s not life. I feel blessed about it, that I was able to do that for a good friend of mine.”