Stories of Hope: Tad Suwa

Tad Dialysis - CopyEach hour Tad Suwa spends on dialysis is another hour he could be raising his children, saving lives as a firefighter/paramedic, or fishing. Instead, he’s tied to a machine for hours at a time, several days a week, as his blood is artificially cleaned, something his kidneys can no longer do.

Tad has been battling kidney disease for 15 years. Despite that, he followed his dream of becoming a firefighter and for eleven years responded to fire and rescue calls in Sacramento. Eventually though, his disease progressed and he was told his kidneys were failing – he would need a kidney transplant. Unfortunately for him, his rare blood type, B+, meant his time on the waiting list for a kidney from a deceased donor could be longer than most, six or more years.

But Tad didn’t want to wait six or more years, and he didn’t want to go on dialysis while he was waiting, either. Lucky for him, his sister stepped up to be his living donor and was a match! Tad thought he’d hit the jackpot. On August 3, 2012, he and his sister went into surgery and, at first, things looked good. Tad was gearing up to go back to work, and his sister thought she had saved her brother’s life. But, things took an unexpected turn. During a follow-up exam, tests showed Tad’s blood pressure was unusually low. It turned out, his sister’s kidney never “woke up”. He was put on dialysis immediately, and back on the transplant waiting list as well.

That was fall of 2012. Tad is now one of the more than 100,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.  As he waits, he continues dialysis and is on light desk duty at the firehouse. Because dialysis is so tiring, his girlfriend handles most of the day-to-day demands of their lives, which includes their four kids, two each from previous relationships. They also have some help from family, friends and their fire family, but Tad doesn’t like being a bystander in his own life.

“At this point, I just want to get back to work. Just, you know, to be back to normal would be huge. It’s a huge gift for someone to even think about (donating). You know, just to be able to get me back to normal, I don’t think there are any words I can say about how happy I’d be.”


In early 2016, Tad received a second kidney transplant that is fully functional. He’s working again for the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Department and you can see him in uniform here.

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