Mike Waters likes to explain his physical connection with bus buddy Tom Giddens like this: “The joke we have is he gets drunk and dances on the table, and I wake up with a hangover. He has calmed down a little bit over these 10 years.”
Easter marked the 10th anniversary of the kidney donation from Giddens that saved Waters’ life.
Before the transplant, the two had forged a deep bond over 25 years, filled with long conversations about the ups and downs of being in the bus business. Both are past California Bus Association presidents. Giddens currently serves on the Board of Directors of the United Motorcoach Association.
The pair met in 1990 when Giddens joined CBA, where Waters was a longtime active member. In those days, they owned coach companies with similar names at opposite ends of the state. Giddens is President of Pacific Coachways outside of Los Angeles, and Waters owned Pacific Coast Bus Service in San Francisco, at the time.
“We became pretty good friends from the bus industry,” Waters said. “We met and we just hit it off. … We just got talking. We talked at least once a week, if not every night, about things.”
Giddens added: “I think we provided each other therapy during the tough times. You can hash that stuff out with a friend who’s going through the same thing and so you come up with solutions, or at the very least, they can feel your pain.”
Bus businesss forged friendship
Waters got into the industry working for his uncle’s business, Franciscan Lines, and later partnered with him on the Trans Cal Tours before launching his own company, Pacific Coast Bus Service, in San Francisco in 1987. After he sold that company, he worked for Coach America, and now works for Coach U.S.A., overseeing the Megabus operation. Four years ago, he relocated to Las Vegas.
Waters’ kidney issues began in the late 1970s. By 2008, he was experiencing kidney failure. The cause was genetic. One of his brothers and a sister had transplants before him. His younger brother died of kidney cancer in the 1960s.
“It came down my mother’s side of the family,” Waters said.
Before the operation, Waters was undergoing dialysis treatments three times a week for three and a half years. He had been on the University of California Medical Center’s long waiting list for a cadaver kidney when Giddens stepped forward and volunteered to donate one of his.
Family members and others had been tested to find a good candidate to become a living donor, but none were a good match.
“I think I told him after my sister-in-law had been dropped from the list. He said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Waters remembers.
While Waters’ wife was a potential match, her kidney was too small. The couple is about a foot apart in height. Waters and Giddens are over 6 feet.
For Giddens, who doesn’t like the sight of blood, it meant six months of medical tests to determine if they were a good match. His wife, Connie, said that was the toughest part of the experience for her husband.
“I could barely get him in to do a blood test to get our marriage,” Connie said.
Extensive testing showed Giddens was an acceptable match, a 1-in-10,000 shot for a non-family member.
Overcame surgical complications
The pair underwent surgery at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco on April 17, 2012. They were at opposite ends of the hospital corridor. Giddens would walk down to see his friend.
Giddens’ donated kidney “went to sleep” because the surgery took longer than expected, so Waters had to do three dialysis treatments afterward until it began working.
“I didn’t find this out until after the surgery, but his veins were very thin,” Waters said. “The doctor is trying to sew his kidney into me, and it’s tearing the veins and leaks. He tried that three times, and the third time was the charm.
The doctor described the challenge of working with Giddens’ vein as trying to sew butter, recalls Connie Giddens.
“They call it the sleeping kidney,” said Waters. “And because I was under anesthesia for about eight hours, it took a couple of weeks to begin working. I had dialysis I think two or three times in the hospital before it started to act. And then there were a few bumps in the road. Here we are 10 years later, and my labs are just perfect.”
The experience was life-changing for the friends. Both are now advocates of organ donations.