Jeff Jardine

New kidney just a prayer and look away

Jacob Acosta desperately needed a new kidney.

The 18-year-old La Grange resident didn't have to go far to find it, though. In fact, it was right there in front of him, twice a month, for nearly 13 years.

Acosta's story is one of pain, patience, hope and faith that transcends pure coincidence. He prayed for a miracle and, he said,"God provided it."

"Our story is amazing," said Annie Davis, the woman who became a major part of the answer to his prayers.

Acosta was born with one kidney that barely worked and another that didn't work at all. When he was 5, his father, Joel Acosta, donated a kidney. It bought Jacob the time he needed to grow up, to enjoy life and to mold himself into a strongly spiritual young man.

Last year, though, his body began rejecting the donor kidney. By October, he was on dialysis three times a week, four hours per session. His kidney was deteriorating rapidly, and he needed another.

Doctors thought they'd found an apparent match in his uncle, Gary Acosta Sr., and they scheduled a transplant surgery for early January. But just four days before the operation, Jacob developed antibodies that would have caused his body to reject the new kidney.

Those same antibodies prevented his cousin, Gary Acosta Jr., from being a donor.

It left Jacob facing an indeterminate time on dialysis, and he didn't want to leave it in his doctors' hands. Following James 5:13-18, he went to elders at Modesto's First Baptist Church and together they prayed for whatever miracle they could get — either healing the failing kidney or for a new donor to emerge.

That's when Annie Davis became such an important player in his life.

After his initial transplant at age 5, he began going to Oak Valley Community Hospital in Oakdale twice monthly to have blood work done. He became comfortable with one of the lab assistants, a woman named Stephanie. One day, though, Stephanie wasn't there. Annie Davis was the tech on duty.

"He said, 'Mom, I don't want her drawing my blood,' " said Sandi Acosta, Jacob's mother. "She was looking at him like he was some kind of brat, and rightfully so."

He finally gave in and allowed her to do her job. She was there again for his next visit, and the one after that, and they soon became friends.

Fast-forward to last year, specifically two weeks after he prayed with the church's elders. When his uncle and cousin needed blood drawn to be tested as potential donors, Davis was on duty at the hospital. She knew she had the same blood type — O — as Jacob Acosta.

"I was drawing blood from his cousin and I asked his uncle about it — what was involved," she said. "He said, 'You'd do this for Jake?' And I said, 'Sure, I would.' "

She contacted officials at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, where Jacob is treated. They sent her a kit. She sent her blood over and received a call a few days later.

Davis, a doctor told her, was Jacob's perfect match. Not just passable. Not merely adequate. She was a better match than a brother or sister could have been. Was she serious about giving him a kidney?

"I said, 'Of course,' " she said. "But I said, 'Let me talk to the (Acosta) family first.' I called and I said, 'Joel, can I have a date with your son June 1?' "

She adores Jacob like a son and was willing to do anything to get him off of dialysis. She had experienced the treatment with her own father.

"My dad was on dialysis for nine years," Davis said. "I know what it's like. It's horrible. I didn't want to see the kid go through it like that."

They set a tentative transplant date of June 1, and proceeded with more tests, which she continued to pass.

Meanwhile, UCSF surgeons removed the now-useless kidney Jacob had gotten from his father a dozen years before.

"It was the worst pain I'd ever been in," Jacob said.

When a nurse asked if there was anything she could do for me, he replied, "Pray for me."

"She started crying," Jacob said, "because she said she hadn't prayed in years."

The transplant surgery in June went remarkably well. After donating the kidney on a Friday, Davis walked out of UCSF Medical Center three days later needing only a Tylenol every so often for her pain. But the day she arrived home in Modesto, she got a phone call from Sandi Acosta.

"She said Jake might be up for rejection," Davis said. "I jumped in the car and said to my husband, Craig, 'We've got to go back. I've got to be there.' "

A biopsy showed no rejection. The problem?

"I was dehydrated," Jacob said. "The kidney was working so well that I was peeing more than I was drinking."

Davis and the Acostas remain extremely close, and Davis calls a couple of times each week just to check up on Jacob. He affectionately calls her "Mom."

Jacob, who turned 18 on July 18, believes he went through everything — the kidney problems he was born with, the transplants, the rejection — for a reason.

"I'd go through it again to get closer to God," he said. "I'd suffer again to bring people to Christ."

He believes his perfect blood and kidney match, Davis, was there as part of a greater plan.

She thinks so, too.

"It's just amazing," Davis said. "It was meant to be."

Jeff Jardine's column appearsSundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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