Heads turned when Aries Merritt walked into the lobby at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix at 5 a.m. on Sept. 1, with family and TV cameras in tow. Just four days earlier, he won a bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. But, on this day, facing one of his biggest hurdles, he was about to undergo a lifesaving kidney transplant.
Aries, 30, was the obvious media hero because of his athletic achievements. He earned a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics and holds the world record in his sport. The unsung hero of the day was LaToya Hubbard, his sister, who was there to donate one of her kidneys to her brother.
LaToya exhibited little, if any, trepidation about her pending surgery. She said it was her honor. “I would do anything for my baby brother,” she says.
By 7 a.m., both brother and sister were readied for their respective surgeries. Their beds were brought into the same pre-op room, so they could be together with family. While they were prepped by the members of their medical and surgical teams, they responded to countless texts, emails and calls from well-wishers. Then they exchanged “I love you” messages and high-fives as LaToya was the first to be rolled back for her surgery.
By midafternoon, both surgeries had been completed, and, that evening, LaToya was determined to be the first to take a cautious walk down the hall to check on her brother. Not to be outdone, Aries completed the same walk early the next morning to check on his sister.
Both surgeries went well, and Aries is pleased with his results and stamina, enjoying the function of his new, healthy kidney. Within a few hours of recovering, he already was focused on his goal to participate in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “My treadmill is being delivered this week,” he says, vowing to ease back into training.
Aries has a rare condition, complicated by a virus, which caused his kidneys to fail. Still, he soldiered on in Beijing, winning the bronze medal while his kidneys were functioning at only 20 percent. He says he wanted to give it his all to prove he could still have a chance at the 2016 Olympics.
Now, with his new kidney, he insists he “will bounce back incredibly fast.”