California Dolphin: statewide California news

A perfect match: Oakland doctor gave him a kidney after nine months of romance

OAKLAND — After one short, bad marriage, Dr. Vanessa Grubbs had finally found Mr. Right. But a major obstacle stood in the way of the couple’s future. Her new boyfriend, Robert Phillips, had end-stage kidney disease and had been going through debilitating dialysis treatments for five years, waiting for a kidney transplant.
So, after just nine months of dating, Grubbs gave him one of hers. Phillips had a successful transplant in April 2005, and the couple got married four months later. It’s been 12 years, and Grubbs, 47, an associate professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, and Phillips, 44, who runs a Sacramento nonprofit, are still going strong.
“People are generally amazed that I gave him one of my kidneys after nine months of dating, but we had both been around the block a couple of times and knew what we were looking for and what we definitely didn’t want in a relationship,” said Grubbs. “Things moved pretty quickly.”
Now she has published a memoir, “Hundreds of Interlaced Fingers: A Kidney Doctor’s Search for the Perfect Match,” that tells the story of how a young doctor’s love for her partner led her to make a life-saving gift to him and fueled her passion to educate people about kidney disease.
Grubbs was was a primary care physician before she met Phillips, and she had never seen what people living with kidney disease went through on a daily basis. She decided to become a nephrologist, a kidney doctor. Once she got into the field, Grubbs said she was disturbed by the aggressive use of dialysis and the racial disparities in who gets transplants.
“I wrote the book not to tell the love story about Robert and me,” Grubbs said. “My plan was to do research into the barriers that led to the fact that blacks and Latinos waited nearly two years longer for kidney transplants than whites.”
Dr. Vanessa Grubbs is photographed in her home on Monday, July 17, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Nine months after Vanessa Grubbs started dating Robert Phillips, she gave him one of her kidneys, and they married four months after the surgery in April 2005. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 
But her book editor had other ideas. She told Grubbs she had to write about her and Phillips. And so she did, weaving their personal narrative into the larger story.
The two met in 2003 when Grubbs was a physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland. She gave a presentation to the hospital’s Board of Trustees that included Phillips. Grubbs said he was rude to her.
About a year later, Phillips called her because he was looking for doctors to help him advocate for getting a kidney transplant and he wanted information about some of her colleagues at UCSF, where she was working. A friend later set them up, unbeknownst to Grubbs. She thought there was going to be a group of people for dinner and was surprised to find that she and Phillips were the only guests.
“It was just the three of us and then she abruptly left and said she was going to get dessert,” Grubbs said. “She twirled out the door.”
The two soon began dating. But Phillips was going to dialysis 12 hours a week. Sometimes he had cramps. He would have bouts of lightheadedness. He’d vomit and experience puffiness.
It reminded him of what some of his family members had told him about being in prison.
“You have to steel your mind to kind of do what’s in front of you with no expectations behind that,” Phillips said. “I had curbed my ambitions and didn’t plan for anything or look ahead … that’s how I did my time on dialysis.”
In February 2005, Phillips got a call from UCSF, notifying him that he’d made it to the top of the list. Grubbs went with him to his evaluation.
At the meeting, their excitement turned to disappointment. The African-American couple said they felt as though Phillips was being discouraged from getting a transplant and believed his race played a role. They were offended by repeated questions about his insurance and whether he could afford the costs of the immune-suppressant medications he would need to take for life. UCSF said that such questions are customary for all patients.
Grubbs decided to find out if she would be a suitable donor match. But when she broached the subject with Phillips, he said “no.”
He had been down that road before with well-meaning family members and others who’d offered to give him a kidney, but it had never worked out.
“The first couple of times it was emotionally kind of devastating for me, so I developed a kind of thick skin around when people wanted to offer that to me,” Phillips said. “I (also) didn’t want the weight of what it meant for her physically and what it meant for us if it didn’t work out.”
Robert Phillips is photographed in his home on Monday, July 17, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Grubbs wasn’t deterred. She already knew she had the right blood type O, same as him. She contacted the transplant center and got a medical evaluation that determined she could be Phillips’ donor. She then told him they had a transplant date six weeks later.
After the operation, Phillips needed two more operations to fix problems from the first surgery. Grubbs was soon back to jogging.
“I don’t see it as being that big of a deal,” she said. “I’d do it again if I still had two kidneys and Robert needed another one.”
They wed at Dunsmuir Historic Estate in Oakland. Guests received bright green, organ-donation wristbands, and the ceremony program had information on the back about becoming an organ donor.
Vanessa Grubbs and Robert Phillips at their wedding Aug. 6, 2005 at Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland. (Courtesy of Vanessa Grubbs) 
Today, the couple shares their home in Oakland with Grubbs’ teenage son and their two dogs. Phillips is no longer on dialysis and said he feels good.
“Now I’m able to focus on aspirations and dreams,” Phillips said. “Before I was just trying to do what I had to do to make sure I could make it to the next day and live — literally.”

Dr. Vanessa Grubbs will speak at the Tedx San Francisco Salon July 22 beginning at 2 p.m. at the Opera Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco and July 25 at 7 p.m. at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Road in Corte Madera.

Top News

Ain't No God; don't even think about theism

UnFox News: not a propaganda arm of the Republican party