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Caleb's kidney: Organ donor, transplant give family friend a new life

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Johnny Ray Watson, the 500th transplant patient of the Scott & White kidney/pancreas transplant program, is seen many years ago holding Caleb Tate. Less than a month ago, Tate died in a motorcycle accident and Watson received one of Tate’s kidneys.

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TEMPLE — Some events defy explanation.

The odds of Caleb Tate’s kidney being a match for Johnny Ray Watson, his godfather and close family friend, were almost nil.

When Tate was 20 and a student at Texas A&M University, he learned that Watson was going on dialysis. Tate told his parents, Robert and Darlene Tate of Seguin, he wanted to give Watson a kidney.

Darlene Tate believed her son’s gesture was heartfelt but probably wasn’t feasible because he was preparing to join the Navy after graduating.

On Oct. 14, Caleb Tate was killed when he was thrown from his motorcycle after a car turned in front of him in College Station.

A few days later, Watson became the 500th transplant patient in the Scott & White kidney/pancreas transplant program when he received Tate’s kidney.

Physicians associated with the Scott & White kidney transplant program, and the Tate and Watson families talked about the experience Wednesday.

“This transplant was a team event,” said Dr. Debra Doherty, transplant surgeon. “As transplant surgeons, we don’t often get to meet our amazing donor families.”

Tate’s kidney began working immediately, and Watson went home five days later with a fully functioning organ, Doherty said.

“Talking about my Caleb is like talking about my own son,” Watson said.

Watson met Darlene Tate when she was about 15 years old at a Methodist church revival in Midland. They became close friends and remained so after her marriage to Robert and the births of their children.

Caleb Tate had a great future ahead of him, Watson said.

Before he became ill, Watson traveled a lot with his music ministry, but he believed those days were over.

Watson said he received a second chance when he was younger.

“God used the sweetest kid I know to give me a third chance,” he said. “I hope I can live up to their expectations of me as a man. I want to give back as much as I can and tell the world about transplantation and how it can save lives.”

Watson said he occasionally pats his side and says, “Hi, Caleb.”

“I loved Caleb and I guess one day I’ll see him in heaven and I’ll say, ‘Thanks,’” he said.

Watson is a great singer, but he’s also a great basketball player, Robert Tate said.

A favorite photo, Robert Tate said, is of Watson holding Caleb Tate up to the net so he could dunk the ball.

“He played with my son; he played with my daughter,” he said. “We’re friends with Johnny Ray and his wife, Brenda. We’re like family.”

The period of time from when a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the Tates’ front door to tell them their son had been injured to making a decision about donating his organs was like being in a blender, Robert Tate said. He didn’t want to think about organ donation.

“I wanted to take my son and go home,” he said. “There’s an inconvenience to it, it’s a three- or four-day process.”

But, Robert Tate came to realize the inconvenience was worth it.

“You eventually get an incredible blessing that you didn’t even know you would get,” he said. “It’s knowing now my son lives in all these people and that somehow makes him alive to me.”

The Scott & White kidney/pancreas transplant program was started in 1997 by Dr. Gregory Jaffers and Dr. Mohanram Narayanan, who saw a need for the service in Central Texas.

Dr. Charles Moritz, Scott & White transplant nephrologist, evaluates patients for transplant and monitors patients after the transplant operation.

Patients with kidney failure have few options — dialysis or transplant, Moritz said.

“There is a tremendous organ shortage in this country and it could be relieved in part by having people understand that kidney donations save lives.”

1 image

Courtesy photo

Johnny Ray Watson, the 500th transplant patient of the Scott & White kidney/pancreas transplant program, is seen many years ago holding Caleb Tate. Less than a month ago, Tate died in a motorcycle accident and Watson received one of Tate’s kidneys.

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