WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- David Emery, 29, is one of the Winston-Salem Fire Departments newest recruits. However, he’s also one of the oldest and most unlikely.
“We had a 2-year-old son, just a happy, normal family doing sort of the normal things,” said Emery, of his family’s life before his wife Brittany became pregnant with her second child.
In 2016, Emery was working as an attorney, when doctors realized the Emerys second child was having health issues.
“About halfway through the pregnancy we knew that there was something wrong,” Emery said.
Their second child, Alina, was born in May 2016 with no kidney function. Emery said she was suffering from a disorder known as Denys-Drash syndrome.
“We thought she was going to be in the hospital for a few weeks, she ended up being in the hospital for 15 months,” Emery detailed.
As the Emerys researched and spoke with medical professionals, it became apparent the best chance for Alina to have a normal life was what Emery called a “living, related kidney donor.”
“At first, we didn’t think it was so life-threatening and then you look at the numbers and you start to get scared,” he said.
With complications from the syndrome resulting in Alina having two strokes, and the threat of an increased risk for a cancerous tumor, both David and Brittany considered donating one of their kidneys to Alina.
“We’re all the same blood type. We thought, you know, there’s a good chance this could work,” Emery said.
As Emery watched Alina fight for her life, he began to reevaluate his own.
“It was stressful and I eventually quit working so I could spend more time at the hospital,” he said.
There, he realized that working behind a desk was not what he wanted to do with his life.
“I just had this realization, like, life is too short to be doing a job you just don’t enjoy,” he said.
Emery decided to join the Winston-Salem Fire Department as a member of their current recruit class.
“This is easily the best job in the world,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood.”
Yet, shortly after his class’ training began, the time came for Emery to sacrifice a piece of his body to preserve a life he helped create.
“I was nervous going into it,” he said.
On Feb. 15, 2018, doctors took Emery’s adult-sized kidney and placed it into Alina’s abdomen.
“When I woke up, I knew that her procedure was underway and it was all going well,” he said.
The surgery was a success.
“When Alina first got her kidney that’s when she peed for the first time in her life, and my wife told me, she said, ‘David, you have to change this diaper because this is your fault,’” Emery said.
The surgery took place on a Thursday. Emery said he was back to work with the rest of his recruit class the following Monday.
“I knew that these guys were going to look after me and take care of me as well as any caregiver at home would have,” he said.
Today, Emery is still on light duty, but expects to be fully recovered in coming weeks. He says that Alina’s current function is great, adding that she is growing and developing faster than ever.
“Developmentally, she’s only a few months behind where she’s supposed to be at this age,” he said.
Emery says doctors told his family that Alina may not need another transplant for 30 years.
“Sometimes I’ll joke around, I’ll hold Alina and I’ll say, ‘My kidneys are back together,’” he said.
Alina turns 2 years old on May 28.
“This kidney has been the trick,” Emery said.
Emery’s recruit class is set to graduate on July 13.