SJPH junior recovers from kidney transplant

October 26, 2000

SJPH junior recovers from kidney transplant

By ADELINE STAEBLER / Staff Correspondent

FREDERICK, Md. - St. John's at Prospect Hall soccer player Chris Barbera has played sports for as long as he can remember.

So when his athletic career was in jeopardy, he fought tooth and nail for it.


Barbera, a 16-year-old junior, has a disease called Alport's Syndrome, a genetic kidney disease characterized by progressive kidney failure. He underwent a kidney transplant last November, receiving the organ from his father, Joseph.

Less than a year after the transplant, Chris was back to playing for the Vikings.

"Chris came back really strong and made a really strong comeback," teammate Andrew French said. "I didn't even notice that anything had happened really. He's a little tougher, he's a barbarian."

Chris proved that last year. He found out in August 1999 that he would need a transplant, but still played the entire soccer season despite a noticeable loss of stamina and energy.


Chris didn't tell his coach that he had health problems, let alone that he needed a new kidney.

"I didn't tell anyone actually until a week before transplant," Barbera said. "The reason I didn't want to tell my coach (Chris Siedor) was because he was a real nice guy, he cared about his players and I thought he would restrict my playing time so I wouldn't get injured or pass out. I didn't tell him at all, my dad told him towards the second half of the last game and he was completely shocked."

Chris had kept the news so quiet he even practiced with the basketball team until the time of his surgery.

His teammate, Joe Palkovic, said he didn't find out that Barbera needed a transplant until after Barbera had left school to go to the hospital.

"I was like, 'Chris? Chris is healthy.' I didn't know what the big deal was, but he missed four months of school," Palkovic said. "It was kind of scary, I was thinking, is he even going to come back at all?"

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Joseph Barbera, an emergency room doctor in Washington, said Alport's Syndrome is a disease that primarily affects males. It is a defect in a protein in the basement membrane of the kidney. The protein is also found in the ear, causing most people with the disease to have hearing difficulties.

Chris has had to wear hearing aids since he was in fourth grade. His younger brother, Brian, also has Alport's Syndrome and also wears hearing aids.

Chris' parents wanted him to have the transplant performed before he needed to go on dialysis. They said they knew that if they went on a waiting list for a kidney from a cadaver donor, they could wait for years.

"It was hard to think about things, my wife did an incredible job organizing everything and preparing Chris and everything else," Joseph said. "In some ways it's like if you've ever gone on a river through rapids, you know it's coming and once it's there you ride through it and you do what you've got to do and hope you don't hit any rocks."

While Chris' family was preparing for the transplant, Chris was trying to remain as active as possible with soccer and school.

"Chris doesn't like to be held down by anything," Joseph said. "Chris was very intense, he was going to continue to play soccer. He refused to let us tell the coach that he was in kidney failure. He neither wanted to be babied or be kept off the field."

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Chris and Joseph checked into iNOVA/Fairfax (Va.) Hospital, and on Nov. 29, 1999, doctors removed one of Joseph's kidneys and successfully transplanted it in Chris.

Father and son each spent four days in the hospital before being sent back to their Darnestown, Md., home to recuperate. Chris was home for eight weeks, several of which were spent in isolation.

"As soon as he had the transplant the glaze he had in his eyes was gone, the twinkle was back," Joseph said. "He had his wit back. The recoverery from surgery wasn't such a big deal because he was much better physically.

"It was pretty dramatic from the time he first woke up in the operating room. You could already see the difference."

Chris said his parents helped make his recovery less difficult.

"My Mom did a whole lot and I'm really thankful for that," Chris said. "She stayed in the hospital with me all week and she slept on this little cot. She was definitely a great help.

"My Dad was upbeat the entire time. He was kind of worse than me. They didn't want us to lift anything heavy and my dad was trying to move his study around after the first couple of weeks," Chris said.

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After the transplant, Chris didn't sit around long. He started walking on a treadmill after a couple of weeks to get back into shape. As soon as he was able to, he started jogging.

"The first time I went walking, I wanted to go jogging, but my Mom didn't want me to jog for like a month or two," Chris said. "Actually, I wanted to get up and walk around a couple of days after I got home, but they wouldn't let me do that either. I just didn't really like being held down."

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