There’s a framed picture on the wall of the Tejada house in Troy, showing Dr. Francisco Tejada and his son, Bob Tejada, smiling with arms slung over each others’ shoulders.
It was taken shortly after Bob gave his father one of his kidneys.
Dr. Tejada prefers to go by Frank. He became a doctor in his native Philippines and finished his training in Chicago, where he met his wife Victorina in a dance club. Eventually they settled in the metro-east, where he had a medical practice in Collinsville for 30 years.
Diagnosed as a diabetic in 1970, Frank’s disease struck hard in the early 2000s. On Christmas Eve, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital in renal failure.
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He endured kidney dialysis for 18 months, but he was 72 years old — right on the edge for qualifying for a kidney transplant.
“I remember that he started carrying a beeper, but it never beeped,” Bob said.
The family returned to their native Philippines and found a family member who was a donor match, but immigration laws made it impossible to bring her to St. Louis for the operation.
So the Tejadas’ children were the best hope for a kidney match for their father. “He didn’t want to ask us for a kidney,” Bob said.
Even so, they volunteered to be tested. Two of the six siblings were a provisional match, but Bob’s sister Betsy had just had a baby, so Bob went through the extensive testing and “passed with flying colors.”
“I didn’t have any hesitation,” Bob said. “I had a viable kidney.”
The operation was a complete success — to Bob’s surprise, his recovery was longer than his father’s because of the extensive operation that has to be performed to remove a kidney. But six weeks later, the Tejadas were healthy enough to throw out the first pitch at the Cardinals’ baseball game for the day celebrating transplants.
For Bob’s part, he’s had no ill effects from living with one kidney. He was never scared, he said; they were confident in the medical team and he was happy he had a compatible kidney to save his father’s life.
“Anyone who is considering donating an organ, they might be terrified, but it wasn’t hard at all,” he said. He jokes that he “vaulted to the first of the six kids.”
And ever since then, both men have been in strong health.
“My philosophy is to keep body and mind healthy,” Frank said.
He sees the last 16 years as his “second life,” and is living it to the fullest: he has become a painter, creating brightly-colored works of art often using re-purposed materials. He has published five books, including a fictionalized version of his transplant story titled “The Solace Tree.”
He and Victorina continue to dance — ballroom dancing, to be precise. Frank said they “dance like teenagers,” for fun and to keep healthy.
This year they will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, and Frank said he knows it’s all thanks to Bob’s gift.
“He saved me, and I’m living my second life,” Frank said. “I could have been in the ground for 16 years.”
Both men said they hope more people will consider becoming organ donors, while living or post-mortem.
“They can save a life,” Frank said.
Both of them framed news articles and photos of the brief flurry of attention they received when the operation took place. But the memory that Frank holds onto the most was a comment from one of Bob’s children.
“My grandson was asked who his hero is,” Frank said. “He said, ‘My dad is my hero, because he gave a kidney to his dad.”