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Bird Key executive chef makes recovery from kidney transplant

A week before he was set to start dialysis, Brent Williams found out he had a kidney match a lot closer than he thought.

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  • | 9:00 a.m. April 3, 2019
  • Longboat Key
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Brent Williams is really into fist bumps right now.

The playful gesture is his way of coming in contact with as few germs as possible.

Williams, the executive chef at Bird Key Yacht Club, is recovering from a kidney transplant, and right now, he is most susceptible to germs.

After nearly eight weeks of recovery, Williams returned to the yacht club on March 25.

When he was 8, Williams, now 50, underwent radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Later in life, he battled colon cancer twice.

Ultimately, the treatments for cancer ruined his kidneys. He was a week away from starting dialysis when he learned he had a match for a kidney transplant.

The match happened to be his wife, Esther.

Esther Williams is 100% Hungarian, so a friend made this shirt for Brent Williams following the surgery.
Esther Williams is 100% Hungarian, so a friend made this shirt for Brent Williams following the surgery.

Esther and Brent Williams were together when Esther got the call saying she was an eligible match. Brent called it a “teary moment.”

“At that point, we had nothing,” he said. “It was like going from having nothing to having the best-case scenario.”

Only 4% of people who register to be kidney donors end up being possible donors, Esther said. To start, Esther Williams had to fill out a basic information and registration form. Then, she had to do blood tests. It took nearly six months of testing and doctor visits to make sure she was healthy enough for the transplant.

“It’s incredible. They call it the $1 million check up,” she said.

By the time Brent Williams underwent the transplant, his kidneys were functioning at about 8%. He said normally, the 10% level is when patients are put on dialysis, so he really pushed it, but he said he wasn’t feeling bad.

The Williamses found out they were matches in September 2018. They had hoped for a November surgery date, but the surgery didn’t happen until early January.

Now, at the end of March, both are starting to feel back to normal.

Esther Williams, whom Brent calls a hero, recently went on her first jog, which she said was hard. She said the first two weeks post-surgery were the hardest, but it took her six weeks to really start to feel back to normal.

Brent Williams is happy to be back at work and not sitting around the house any more, he said.

 After almost eight weeks, he’s starting to feel back to normal as well. However, the first three months after the transplant are the most critical, and he’s still in that time period. He still has to take six to seven anti-rejection pills a day, but eventually that will taper to two a day.

So,  he’s into fist bumps and not so much hand shaking. The Williamses are deeply aware of germs now and have had to remind their two kids and guests to wash their hands as soon as they enter their home.

The Williamses, who met at Bird Key Yacht Club 18 years ago, said the club, and Morton’s Gourmet Market and Catering, where Esther works now, were supportive and understanding of their need for time off during recovery.

“It took a whole village, the whole town,” Esther Williams said.

Going forward, Brent Williams said there’s a chance he will have to go on dialysis or try another transplant later in life. A living-donor kidney usually lasts 20 years, sometimes longer. Already, 20 years is longer than the span of a kidney from a cadaver, which last between seven and 15 years.

Brent Williams calls himself a glass-half-full kind of guy who is grateful for everything. He said he’s had that mindset since he was a kid.

“I had cancer three times before, so I was already in that mindset of being grateful for every day,” he said. “Most people take it all for granted; breathing, walking, talking.”




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