Aaron Wiley got more than he bargained for in May, when he went to his favorite jeweler in Dallas to get his wife’s diamond necklace upgraded.
One day after helping Wiley and his wife, Erleigh Wiley, select a new motif for the necklace, Jennifer Pratt of JPratt Designs offered an unexpected gem: her kidney.
During their design appointment, Pratt learned that Aaron was on dialysis treatment because the kidney Erleigh had given him about 10 years earlier had failed. She knew she wanted to help, she said.
“Aaron had been in the store a few times before, and although I didn’t know him well, I knew he was a good person,” she said. "I went home and told my husband, ‘I’m going to try and give Aaron my kidney.’
"We were living a peaceful life, drinking wine, and enjoying the pool in our backyard, and Aaron was in dialysis three or four times a week,” added Pratt, 59. “I thought, ‘I can make life better for him.’ ”
She turned out to be a perfect match. And on Aug. 25, she gave one of her kidneys to Wiley during a four-hour transplant surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where both she and the Wileys live.
The surgery went smoothly, leaving Wiley with a chance to live a normal life, said Eric J. Martinez, Pratt’s transplant surgeon.
“It’s a chance for him to feel well again and to break free from the inconvenience and burden of dialysis,” he said.
Wiley, a private practice attorney, had done well with the kidney his wife gave him in 2008 after he developed kidney disease, he said. But in 2017, his body suddenly rejected it.
None of his other family members were a good match, so he resumed kidney dialysis every other day and put his name on the national organ waiting list, joining about 250,000 others waiting for kidneys.
“I knew I’d be on that list for five or six years,” he said. “It was very discouraging.”
For nearly three years, Aaron continued to work, he said, timing his travel schedule around four-hour dialysis treatments, which he underwent every other night.
Although he and Erleigh, who works as the district attorney for Kaufman County, had to give up vacations due to the treatments, they learned to enjoy small pleasures, Aaron Wiley said.
“I like buying her gifts for every holiday,” he said. "Seven years ago, I bought her a diamond tennis bracelet and matching necklace, but the necklace never fell right on her neck. She never wore it, so finally, for her birthday this year, I said, ‘Let’s go get that necklace redone.’ "
On May 5, the Wileys returned to JPratt Designs, where Aaron had previously taken Erleigh’s wedding ring to have the diamonds upgraded.
Jennifer Pratt designs the studio’s jewelry, while her husband, Jeff Pratt, creates the pieces. It wasn’t until she offered the Wileys a glass of water that she learned Aaron Wiley had kidney disease and was waiting for a donor.
“Erleigh said, ‘He can’t have any more water — he’s on dialysis and has to restrict his intake,'” recalled Jennifer Pratt. “I started asking questions and learned it takes about six years to get a new [cadaver] kidney. I felt terrible, knowing what he’d been going through.”
The next day, she said, she got a blood test to see if she would match as a donor.
“When I learned that we had the same blood type, I told him I wanted to give him one of my kidneys if I could make it through the rest of the testing process,” she said.
Aaron Wiley said he and Erleigh were stunned.
“It was an emotional moment,” he said. “What do you say to someone who wants to give you such an incredible gift? I was speechless.”
After additional screening and counseling, a transplant date was set at Baylor University Medical Center for Aug. 25.
“I was all for it, and so was everyone else who learned about it,” said Jeff Pratt. “People who know Jennifer know the kind of giving heart and spirit she has.”
On the morning of the transplant, Aaron Wiley told Jennifer Pratt there were no words to express his gratitude, he said.
“He didn’t have to say anything — I knew what it meant to him,” Jennifer Pratt said. “I wasn’t even nervous. It was in the Lord’s hands and I had a good feeling.”
When she visited Aaron in his room the morning after the surgery, Jennifer said she knew the transplant was a success.
“He looked so much better — there was color in his face,” she said. “And there was a half-full urine bag next to his bed. ‘Look!’ I told him. ‘My kidney is working!’”
She and Aaron are recovering at their homes and look forward to the day they can go out for a proper celebration.
“Jennifer is proof that there truly are angels on Earth,” Erleigh said. “She’s a person of action who never wavered. We’ll never be able to thank her enough.”