2014-02-21 / Front Page

Between friends, a kidney transplant

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

When Brian Pettingill, right, needed a kidney donation, his friend Scott Burchill didn’t think twice about giving Pettingill one of his. Both men are recuperating from their respective Feb. 5 surgeries. (Courtesy photo) When Brian Pettingill, right, needed a kidney donation, his friend Scott Burchill didn’t think twice about giving Pettingill one of his. Both men are recuperating from their respective Feb. 5 surgeries. (Courtesy photo) Friendship can be a powerful thing. When Scott Burchill heard his friend Brian Pettingill’s kidneys were failing and that he needed a kidney transplant, Burchill knew there was only one thing he could do: give Pettingill one of his kidneys.

The decision to help was particularly poignant since recently Burchill lost a 39-year-old friend of his to cancer.

“I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do,” Burchill said about the feeling he had watching cancer take his friend’s life. “I didn’t want to feel like that again. In this case, there was an impact I could make. I didn’t want to see another friend suffer.”

Pettingill met Burchill met eight years ago when his daughter and Burchill’s stepdaughter were attending day care together at Heidi’s House in Scarborough.

“The two girls became friends. We became friends and the two families became friends,” Pettingill said. “We have been fairly close to them since then.”

Issues for Pettingill began in 2010 when he was diagnosed with two blood cancers: chronic lymphocytic leukemia and amyloidosis, which creates malformed proteins in the bone marrow. Pettingill said his kidneys “took the brunt” of the amyloidosis.

Through chemotherapy, Pettingill was able to get his cancers under control.

“I was able to get into remission,” he said, “but the damage was done to my kidneys. They have slowly failed over the last four years. In May of last year it got so bad I had to start dialysis.”

Ultimately, it was decided, a kidney transplant was in Pettingill’s best interest and Burchill quickly volunteered to be the donor.

At 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 5, Pettingill and Burchill went into the surgery center at Boston Medical Center and four hours later, Pettingill had a new kidney.

“Scott was so eager to help. It was pretty amazing,” Pettingill said.

Once he heard that a transplant was necessary for Pettingill, Burchill said it was an easy decision. Burchill said he first heard of Pettingill’s need for a new kidney last May or June after reading about it on a blog post by Tina Pettingill, Brian’s wife.

“After I took a look at that, I talked to my wife and made a pretty quick decision that it was something I was interested in pursuing, at least going down to do the testing to see if I was a match,” Burchill said.

Burchill went down to Boston for a blood test, psychological evaluation, CAT scan and visit with a social worker in late July, while on a personal time off from Idexx Laboratories.

“I’ve been blessed with extremely good health, along with taking care of myself,” Burchill said. “This was an opportunity to do something good and I didn’t want to pass it up.”

Pettingill said he was awed by Burchill’s action to help.

“I was floored that Scott was willing to do that and would put himself at risk,” Pettingill said. “Kidney transplants are a lot safer than they used to be, but nevertheless I knew it was not going to be easy for either one of us to deal with.”

Pettingill said he has been overwhelmed with the support of not only the Burchills, but many other friends and neighbors in Scarborough.

“We have been here since 2001. The friendships we have formed have been amazing. People have been so giving in this community. There have been so many people that have stepped up to help,” Pettingill said.

Both Pettingill and Burchill are at home recovering from their respective surgeries.

Because of some setbacks from the surgery, including some internal bleeding, Pettingill spent a week in the hospital, longer than he expected.

“I am feeling okay. It is not an easy process. I am in pain, but I am feeling better. Everything seems to be working well,” said Pettingill, who is taking medication to make sure his body doesn’t reject the new kidney.

Burchill, who has been instructed to take it easy for the next few weeks, expected to return to work this week.

Despite the pain associated with the surgery, Burchill said he is confident he made the right decision.

“The pain is manageable. The amount of goodwill and joy that comes out of it outweighs any discomfort you have,” Burchill said. “It’s a feeling I will have the rest of my life. Knowing I was able to make an impact on someone else’s life is a great feeling.”

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