Stories of Hope: Bret Williams, kidney transplant recipient

After playing a “pick-up” basketball game at the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC) at Harvard College, I returned to my freshman dormitory room with swollen ankles. I was concerned because both were swollen, there was no pain, and I had not twisted either ankle during play. Because the swelling did not subside after a few days, I went to the hospital. A physician ultimately performed a biopsy and diagnosed my illness as idiopathic focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS or progressive kidney failure).

The physician told me that there was no treatment and that my kidneys might fail in 6 months, 6 years, 60 years, or never. Over the next 30 years with this knowledge, I lived my life. I graduated from college and law school; protected the environment; ensured that people’s voting rights were not abridged; and fought crime. I got married and have two fine sons.

Then, thirty years after that basketball game at the MAC, my kidneys completely failed.  And for the next eight years, I lay in bed at a dialysis center inserting two needles into my left forearm three times a week. I thanked God for the blessing of life and my outstanding medical care; I also desperately wanted a transplant to live and work untethered. Two and one-half years ago, I received the gift of renewed living – a kidney transplant – through the capable hands of Erlanger’s Nephrology and Kidney Transplant Center.

Often, I think about the donated organ inside me and the compassion and altruism of the donor. And to that unknown donor, I say, “Thank you!”

If you would like to become a registered organ donor to help save lives like Bret’s, visit