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HUTTON: Michael Jenkins gives a piece of himself to his father

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Updated: May 18, 2013 6:52AM



I have never met Bonita Jenkins face-to-face, but I can feel her softness and breathe in her dignified, profound strength over the phone as she tells her story.

I can say this with certainty: Those Jenkins boys are lucky to have her around. All five of them, starting with her husband, Robert.

Today is a good day for the Jenkins family. Tuesday and Monday were good days also. It’s been a good week. They’ll hungrily take more goodness.

“His kidney is working great,” Bonita said of Robert. “He is peeing like a horse.”

Look at the smile on Robert’s face in the photo and try to imagine what it means for him to have a healthy kidney. That is Michael Jenkins, his youngest son, standing next to him. He is just as happy.

A week ago Monday, Michael went in for surgery and doctors, in a procedure that was barely invasive, took out one of Michael’s kidneys. Then, swiftly, they opened up Robert and gave him a kidney he desperately needed. The transplant is a success — so far.

Getting the new kidney was a huge relief for Robert. His kidney function had slowly disintegrated over several years because of high blood pressure. He had to quit his job working with the Gary Public Transportation Department two years ago and go on disability. In December of 2011, he was forced to go on dialysis while his name was put on a waiting list for a kidney.

Michael was about the last person that Robert wanted to take the kidney from but there was no other way — at least not soon. He had been on the list for more than a year but there was no way of knowing where that stood.

And Bonita was worried about him. Dialysis was an exhausting three-day-a-week chore that left him wiped out and unable to function for half his week. He was moody and irritable and generally unhappy.

“It was something he really hated,” Bonita said.

The other Jenkins boys would’ve gladly served up their kidney for their father but none of them matched.

Robert Jr., the oldest son, had been shot multiple times on March 17, 2012, in a random attack while he was sitting in his car with a friend just months short of his graduation from Purdue. He still didn’t have any feelings in his leg.

Brandon wasn’t a match and Stephen, his third son, had a horseshoe shaped kidney that eliminated him as a candidate.

That left Michael.

Michael was a high-energy point guard for Roosevelt. He was Larry McKissack’s best player and leading scorer in the 2011-12 season. He has aspirations to play college basketball somewhere, but his heart is with his family and his decision to donate was never really a decision.

He was going to help his father out. He never hesitated.

“Your dad is only here once,” he said. “I’ll do anything for my family.”

Jenkins received the news last month that he was a match and he got the call a couple of weeks ago to head into surgery.

The swiftness of it was shocking but he’s glad he did it and he’s glad his father, who is 53, has hope for a better life. Bonita says he might return to work in some capacity but he’s not sure what that will be.

Michael, who played basketball at Quakerdale Prep school in Iowa this past season, can continue to play basketball once he heals, which should be in about eight weeks. He still wants to play in college somewhere and he’s hoping that his dad can get out to watch him play.

Bonita is happy that Robert is better and proud of her son. It’s all good — at least for now.



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