City and suburb. Black and white. A 45-year-old man built like an offensive lineman and a 58-year-old woman who is lean like a dancer.
These are the two judges who meet on a Tuesday morning in a courtroom in Milwaukee. They don their robes. They pose for photos. And embrace.
In September 2014, Municipal Court Judge Derek Mosley of Milwaukee was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. His kidneys were failing. Every night since, he has connected himself to a dialysis machine for 10 hours, the cleansing fluid removing waste products from his kidneys, sustaining him yet stealing away precious time.
And, yet, there is hope. Surgery is scheduled for Wednesday. Mosley will receive a kidney from Municipal Court Judge JoAnn Eiring of the Town of Brookfield.
In a summer filled with angst and anger, when people argue over which lives matter, there is a note of grace as one judge prepares to provide a gift of life to another.
“This just proves that no matter what you think about color or background or economic status or all those things, here’s this woman from Brookfield and this kid from the south side of Chicago and I’m about to get her kidney so I can live,” Mosley said. “And we are as compatible as anything else. To me, it’s just amazing.”
Mosley and Eiring invited the Journal Sentinel to document the surgery in hopes that it would spur others to consider organ donation, especially within the African-American community.
Nationally, around 34% of those waiting for a kidney transplant are African-American. Organs are not matched by race or ethnicity but “a greater diversity of donors may potentially increase access to transplantation for everyone,” according to the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.
To Kevin Regner, chief of nephrology at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, the story of Mosley and Eiring “illustrates that people need to come and be evaluated for transplant. We need to think about all options. Donors can come from any aspect of your life.”
Mosley and Eiring first met at a judicial seminar in Eau Claire in 2003. She was a judicial veteran, first elected in 1991. He was a former Milwaukee County assistant district attorney who had been on the bench for around a year.
“We just hit it off,” said Eiring, who besides being a judge is program director for adult pretrial court services at Wisconsin Community Services in Waukesha County.
Their families connected immediately. Mosley and his wife, Kelly Cochrane, an administrative law judge for the State of Wisconsin, have been married 15 years. They have two daughters, Kallan, 11, and Kieran, 8. Eiring and her husband, Paul, a civil engineer, baby-sit the kids.
The families enjoy barbecues and birthdays. Eiring and her husband have two grown children, Sam, a program developer for the Mayo Clinic, and Katie, a marketing representative for a restaurant chain.
“Derek’s family is my family,” Katie said. “We’re all very close.”
Katie recalled that on her first day at Marquette University, the first email that landed in her college account came from Mosley, a Marquette Law School graduate.
“He said that if you ever appear in my courtroom here are my punishments,” Katie said.
When doctors told Mosley his kidneys were failing, the news hit both families hard. For a long time, only a close circle of family, friends and court colleagues knew what Mosley was dealing with.
Mosley said his father died of kidney failure. His grandmother underwent a successful kidney transplant, one of the first in Chicago, Mosley said. Before his diagnosis, Mosley, who also has diabetes, said he didn’t have any outward signs that his kidneys were failing.
“The first thing I noticed was that when I urinated, it was really bubbly. So I went in for my routine exam,” he said. Tests showed he was secreting an inordinate amount of protein into his urine.
He went on dialysis immediately. Mosley sought to retain his independence and remain on the bench. He also wanted to keep a full schedule, giving speeches, volunteering on boards, officiating weddings, mentoring youngsters and coaching his older daughter’s basketball team.
Mosley chose to undergo peritoneal dialysis, which he could administer at home overnight through a catheter. A dialysis machine and five-liter bags of sterile cleansing fluid were set up in the bedroom. He had to be home each day by 7:30 p.m. He had to sleep on his back.
Whenever he traveled, the machine and the fluid had to go with him, including an annual trip with a friend to attend college basketball’s Final Four.
“I didn’t want it to define who I am, to take over my life,” Mosley said.
He was placed on a list to obtain an organ. The wait could last up to six years.
A search began for a living donor. Because of a family history of kidney failure, Mosley’s sister Tiffani Desrosiers was ruled out. Friends and family stepped forward to get tested.
“For me, it’s hard to do, to say, ‘Can I have your kidney?'” Mosley said.
Eiring went through the process.
“I’ve had several friends who have had serious illness and you feel so helpless you can’t do anything,” Eiring said. “This is the kind of illness you can at least try and do something.”
Eiring passed a first step: She and Mosley both had the same blood type, B positive. Then came other tests. Because of the size differences between them — she’s 5-foot-61/2, 134 pounds and he is 6-2, 285 — there were concerns that Eiring’s kidney wouldn’t be a match for Mosley.
Eiring joked with the doctors, “Don’t be fooled by my body size. I’ve got big bones, big feet. I’m pretty sure I have big organs, too.”
In June, came good news from the doctors. Eiring was a match for Mosley.
“I was shocked, probably as shocked as they were,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Mosley and Eiring arrived at Froedtert & The Medical College. They were at peace with the surgery. Their families waited anxiously.
By late morning, the transplant surgical teams were ready — Michael Zimmerman would remove Eiring’s left kidney and Christopher Johnson would place the kidney into Mosley’s right lower abdomen.
When Johnson met with Mosley, the judge asked him: “Did you sleep well?”
A nurse, Joan Zittnan, told Mosley, “You have an awesome team. I love working withDoctor Johnson.”
At 11:55 a.m., as she was being hooked up to an IV, Eiring said “cocktail time.” She was off to surgery.
A few minutes later, Mosley was on his way, too.
The transplant took place in adjoining operating rooms. The surgical teams worked methodically.
“This is the most important surgery in the world right now,” Zimmerman said later, explaining the attitude of doctors and nurses.
Using a video camera and instruments, Zimmerman performed laparoscopic surgery to remove Eiring’s kidney. Once the organ was removed, it was placed in a small bowl and taken to a back table where Johnson inspected the kidney, flushed it with a preservation solution, and securely packed it, finally placing it in a cooler.
Eiring would soon be on her way to recovery.
The cooler, with the kidney inside, was rolled just a few feet to the adjoining operating room. Johnson and his team were ready. Eiring’s kidney fit in the palm of the doctor’s hand. Soon, it would be placed in Mosley and attached securely.
By 5:30 p.m., the surgery on Mosley was winding down. Later, after he awoke, he said he thought the surgery was just getting started.
But it was done. A success.
For Mosley, the surgery was just a beginning.
“Your first transplant is your best shot. Try really hard to keep that organ in place,” said Ehab Saad, a nephrology specialist at Froedtert who helped oversee Mosley’s care. “The journey starts after that transplant.”
Once a month, Mosley will return to Froedtert to receive an infusion of Belatacept to help prevent rejection of the new kidney. Froedtert was involved in an initial trial for the medication.
“The benefit of the medication is it doesn’t hurt the kidney over the long term,” Saad said.
Late Friday morning, Mosley and Eiring were prepared to talk with a reporter about what they had been through. Their families were excited and relieved.
“I feel great. I do. I haven’t felt like this in a long time,” Mosley said.
“It’s very cool, thinking about it,” Eiring said of her kidney now working inside Mosley.
“We’re bonded, whether you like it or not,” Mosley said.
“We’re like relatives,” Eiring said.
“Blood relatives,” Mosley responded.
How will it change their relationship?
“I owe her my life, essentially,” Mosley said. “How do you ever repay something like that? All I can do is just do the best I can to keep this gift as long as I can keep it.”
At last, Mosley was free of the dialysis machine.
“I can’t tell you what a good feeling it is to help him out and make his life better,” Eiring said. “It’s so frustrating when someone is sick and you are helpless and can’t do anything. So I feel just as fortunate to be able to work on this.”
Mosley had to wipe away tears.
“I can’t describe to you how long and laborious 10 hours a day every day of the week is,” he said. “I can’t imagine having that time back, being able to spend time with my family.”