Mom’s Sudden Death Leads to a Life-Saving Kidney Transplant for Her Daughter’s Boyfriend

Karey Gengler’s sudden and tragic death from a brain aneurysm at age 46 left her family grieving. But in the days after she passed, she went on to save the lives of four other people, including her daughter’s boyfriend who was desperately in need of a kidney.

For over a year, Mike Rodgers, her daughter Josie Brown’s longtime boyfriend, was spending four hours a day, for three days a week, going back and forth to a dialysis center to keep himself alive while he sat on the lengthy donor waiting list.

“They told me that it could be a year, and for older people it can be four years or even longer,” he says.

Doctors first identified Rodgers’ need for a new kidney in Sept. 2017. He was rushed to the hospital as his kidneys shut down and diagnosed with Alport syndrome, a genetic condition that affects hearing, eye sight and can led to a loss of kidney function. He had been tested for it as a kid, but they came up negative at the time.

Over the year and two months that Rodgers waited on the donor list, he relied on Brown and her family for support.

“Everything was a lot to handle at first, but having Josie and her whole family made it easier to get through,” he says. “It was really draining. It honestly beat me up a lot. There were days I could handle it, but there were days when I couldn’t really do a lot.”

Mike Rodgers and Josie Brown | Cleveland Clinic
Mike Rodgers and Josie Brown | Cleveland Clinic

Then in Dec. 2018, Gengler, suffered an aneurysm. She was ruled brain dead by the next morning, and died two days later. Her family quickly floated the idea of donating her kidney to Rodgers.

“It was a hectic week, because my mom was in the hospital for about two days, and then we found out that she had passed,” Brown, 22, says. “I was trying to cope with that and then we were waiting to see if Mike would be a match, and then he was, and we immediately started going through the whole transplant process.”

Karey Gengler and Josie Brown | Josie Brown
Karey Gengler and Josie Brown | Josie Brown

Gengler had actually considered donating her kidney prior to her death, but the timing hadn’t worked out.

“She always brought up how she wanted to go get tested to see if she was a match for Mike, just because she saw what he was going through and wanted to help out, but she had just started her own business, so the timing was off,” Brown says.

Amazingly, Gengler was in fact a match. Brown’s stepdad immediately offered Rodgers one of her kidneys.

“It was really overwhelming, just because at that time I never thought that I would be receiving her kidney while we were grieving over her,” Rodgers says. “I didn’t know if I was going to accept her kidney, but the whole family gave me their blessing and really helped me with my decision.”

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Once he accepted, Rodgers started on the kidney transplant process at the Cleveland Clinic, with the help of Dr. Alvin Wee.

“There were a lot of emotions, but the credit should be given to Josie — she was put in a very tough position,” Wee says. “I can’t imagine how much she was going through that time in making this decision.”

Dr. Alvin Wee and Mike Rodgers | Cleveland Clinic
Dr. Alvin Wee and Mike Rodgers | Cleveland Clinic

The transplant surgery “went well,” Wee says, and the kidney started working right away, enabling Rodgers to go off dialysis.

“When I woke up, I honestly felt more alive,” Rodgers says. “Everything felt more refreshing. I know that sounds weird, but it’s really the best way to describe it. I felt healthy again.”

Mike Rodgers | Josie Brown
Mike Rodgers | Josie Brown

Rodgers is doing well now, after some initial “shakeups” with the post-transplant medications, and says he’s extremely thankful.

“It makes me closer to Josie and her family, and it gives me this opportunity to be able to live my life better with Josie and take care of her and really enjoy everything that I can do,” he says.

For Brown, giving her mom’s kidney to Rodgers eased the grieving process.

“It helped me because you knew that something good could come out of something bad,” she says.