Reflecting on a most precious gift
By Emily Lundy and Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writers
MABANK–Ask Tom Trull, in his mid-forties, if he knows what his
best Christmas present has ever been, and immediately, he knows
“A kidney,” he says, as he pauses to review five years of
sickness, agony, an unpredictable future, doctors, tests,
hospitals, trips to Houston and Dallas hospitals.
When those who know and love him learned how sick he was, they
hurt deeply not knowing really what to do.
It was in the fall of 2006 that Trull began having headaches and
upset stomach so severe he went home from work about once a
month from September through December. Word spread about Trull’s
“look,” how he must be quite ill.
One day, his sister, Amy, a registered nurse at Hermann
Memorial, looked over his health screen. “I believe you have a
kidney problem,” she said.
Amy referred him to a specialist with UT Physicians in the
Medical Center in Houston. A kidney biopsy confirmed that he had
an IGA Nephropathy, although he had never before had a single
health issue. The condition had developed from an undetected
strep infection, doctors told him. As a result of Tom’s health
issue, Amy changed her focus and now specializes in kidney and
IGA has no real treatment, no cure. Doctors tried chemotherapy
for six months in 2007, in an effort to slow the disease’s
progress. A transplant was the only solution.
In association with Hermann Memorial Hospital in Houston,
Trull’s doctor began the search for a suitable, living donor, if
possible. Trull’s twin sister seemed the logical solution.
However, the initial screening revealed Pam’s possible genetic
relationship could be a problem. If her kidney ever developed
the same condition, he would be at a great disadvantage.
Several more friends and acquaintances were in line for testing.
However, all immediate and extended family members were
eliminated for not meeting one or more specifications.
Tom and his wife, Angie, a principal in a nearby school, began
searching within the community for options. The matching
criteria included an O-positive blood type. Many were screened
but none matched all the criteria. Disappointment followed
disappointment. The screening process was taking longer than
anyone had thought. Now, time was becoming critical. The plan
was to find a match, do the screening and set up a transplant
before Tom had to begin dialysis treatments. Each delay meant
further deterioration of his kidneys.
In June, longtime family friend Patricia Riley asked Tom for an
application. But someone else was already looking good for being
the match the Trulls had been praying for. By September, Tom
went on nightly dialysis at home and a December transplant date
was in the offing.
Retracing family history
When the Don Trull family moved from the Dallas area in 1967 and
purchased land north of Mabank, four children born within three
years came with them: Amy, almost three; Jeff, 13 months younger
with Williams’ Syndrome; and twin babies Tom and Pam.
For a small community, this was good news, both for the church
they would attend and school they would enroll in. Their mother,
Dee, a talented, stay-at-home mom, was most welcomed.
They chose a farmhouse near Roddy, off Highway 19 going to
Canton. The family dreamed of building a new house beside the
old farmhouse, and around 1980, they did. Now stands a beautiful
brick home with four bedrooms, large cooking area to show off
Dee’s culinary skills, a view “to die for” out the back and
Don’s cabinetry artistry throughout in shelves, bureaus and
cabinets, was a dream come true. Don ran cattle and sundry
ranching and farming activities.
Busy most of the time, life was good. Along the way, there were
minor and some major surgeries. Don, now in his seventies,
learned to manage his heart disease. Only last year, while
visiting family in Alabama, Dee became deathly ill and had
several surgeries, while kept in an induced coma for a week, but
she rallied and is now forgetting how close she came to leaving
But this story is not about Dee or Don, which it could be, but
about Tom, their youngest son.
Tom’s dream after high school was to teach. He chose
agricultural studies. His first job was near Nacogdoches. As a
high school senior, he had begun seeing Angie Ivey, a beautiful
sophomore, for special occasions. Then “often” became “steady.”
Both were well liked and active in their school. Tom is
remembered as laid back, quiet, soft-spoken, with a crisp, clean
humor just waiting for the right opportunity to spring with just
a touch of mischief.
During college or right afterward, the pair married in an
outdoor setting at Angie’s home with a western theme.
Then Tom was hired at his alma mater, Mabank High School, to
teach agricultural science. Soon the couple built a home near
Tom’s parents. Today, they have one son, Bradley, 22. Tom and
Bradley are both excellent farm equipment mechanics.
Back to the present
With Tom’s illness pushing him to the limit, he had to take it
easier, so he took a change in teaching assignments, going to
the Alternative School for fewer job-related trips and lightened
responsibilities. He kept weekly appointments with his doctor in
Houston. As they approached the transplant month, the hopeful
donor matching process that had looked so good, had on one of
the very last tests proved incompatible – another
However, Riley’s preliminary tests showed signs of being a
match. The Kemp resident and graduate had known Tom and Angie
for 17 years and looked up to Angie as a mentor, as she started
her teaching career. Riley, then 38 years old with three
children Cotton, 11, Kendall, 10, and Callie, 3, went ahead with
the process although her family was not thrilled, but
nonetheless very supportive of Patricia’s decision to have
elective surgery. Their concerns centered on the immediate and
“Tom and Angie are just the best, and he’s such an amazing
person,” Patricia said it was easy to respond to his need.
“I felt it (the kidney) was something I had that I didn’t need
that would change someone else’s life forever,” she told The
“Actually, I feel I got more out of it, than Tom did. For one
thing, I learned more about my own body than I would have
otherwise (referring to the various tests she underwent). I even
got to see a 3-D image of my heart pumping,” she elaborated. But
the most important value she gained was an increased faith and
understanding of giving. “I learned what the true gift of giving
is and what a lesson for my children. I haven’t regretted it a
single day. I would do it all again, in a second,” she said.
Exactly when Tom received the good news that Patricia was a
match, he can’t remember.
Each step along the way has to turn up precise results. One
wrong characteristic or red flag would cancel the whole process
and the search would have to begin again. But with each positive
test result, hope began to build. “I left it all in God’s
hands,” Patricia said. “I turned all control over to him. If it
was his will, everything would turn out as it should, and it
Tom gratefully remembers Patricia’s optimistic outlook
throughout the process.
The operation was set for Dec. 7, 2010. The Christmas and New
Year holidays were approaching, affording the longest stretch of
time off from work in which the two teachers could recover from
the procedure with help from concerned family and friends.
Patricia recounts the day of the transplant. “That morning when
they put in the IV, my only fear was whether or not I would be
able to handle the pain,” she said. Looking back she described
her recovery as difficult. “I’ve had three babies and that
(recovery) was the worst pain I felt in my life,” she said.
Though she insists she would still do it again.
Patricia reports that her kidney was such a perfect match for
Tom that it set records in its performance soon after surgery.
And both Patricia and Tom were able to spend Christmas 2010 at
home with their families.
It’s been a full year, since Tom got his life back and he is
left with one more deed to perform.
He asks, “How do you thank someone for giving you an organ so
you can live a full life?”
“It’s been a year and I still don’t know how,” he said.
“Of course, it has changed my life in so many ways. I always
felt I was health conscious. But, when your life is changed to
this point, you don’t take anything for granted. I try to live
as though I have no limitations because I now know what
limitations are first hand.
“I would also especially thank my wife and family (including
Aunt Vonnie Dover – my dad’s sister), and friends for seeing me
through the process. I think I was on every prayer list in every
church in our area. I know prayer works.”
Patricia said she continues to see Tom nearly on a weekly basis.
“He’s always grateful and appreciative and always tells me, ‘I
owe it all to you.’