Ashutosh Gupta helped countless patients with kidney-related challenges during his 39-year career practicing nephrology.
But it was after retiring in 2017 that the 75-year-old Oak Brook resident stepped forward in a very different way to help someone with severe kidney issues.
In early 2019, Gupta decided he wanted to donate a kidney to someone with whom he was a suitable match. After an extensive evaluation at Loyola University Medical Center, Gupta was approved as a qualified donor in mid-June of 2019. A suitable recipient was identified a month later, and the procedure was done on July 18, 2019.
“Several events seemed to inspire me,” Gupta said of his decision to donate a kidney. “Shortly after I retired, I joined the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois as a board member in January 2018. At the NKFI Gala dinner in October 2018, I saw the wonders of a live kidney donation when the donor and the recipient shared their journey and the experience on the stage.”
On the same day, Gupta learned that the mother of one of his invited Gala dinner guests had donated her kidneys before she passed away from an unexpected event. “These two events seem to have planted a seed of a kidney donation in my mind,” Gupta said. “In January 2019, I read the story in the Chicago Tribune of two successful triple transplants — heart, liver and kidney — done at the University of Chicago.”
Gupta said he decided a few weeks later to donate blood, but was rejected by Life Source due to a recent trip to India.
“At this point, I thought that if I cannot donate blood, I will donate a kidney to any suitable match,” he said. “I finalized my decision, informed my family and two Spiritual Swamis.”
Gupta’s suitable recipient was Bina Gupta (no relation) of Michigan City, Indiana. Now, age 67, she learned of her kidney issues after returning from a trip to Europe with her daughter, who planned the excursion for her mother’s 60th birthday.
“I never had any health issues and was very healthy person,” Bina Gupta said. “We had a great time, and when we came back from the trip I got admitted to the hospital the third day with pneumonia. It kept getting worse after being admitted twice, there was no diagnosis and I kept getting sicker.”
It was during her third hospital admission that Bina Gupta was told she had lost function of both kidneys due to her having Wegener ANCA, an autoimmune disease, and that she needed a kidney transplant.
It was almost nine months after starting a second round of kidney dialysis that Bina Gupta learned a donor had been found for her.
“It was very difficult not knowing when you will get a call from hospital that they have a match for you,” she said. “My family members offered me their kidneys but I refused. I just wanted to wait for call.”
Bina Gupta’s son gave her the news that a match from a living donor had been found.
“I never expected that, and my first reaction was wondering how that could be possible,” she said. “It took couple of hours for me to realize that it was really happening, and first thing I did was go to temple.”
Fortunately for Bina Gupta, Dr. Gupta had made the decision to donate a kidney to any suitable match.
“I did not have any particular patient, friend or relative in my mind,” he said. “My blood group is B positive, and this is uncommon in the general U.S. population.”
“One of my nephrologist friends at Loyola told me that one of his dialysis patients was B positive and waiting for a kidney transplant. It was up to the transplant team to find the suitable match and eventually, she was the one who was selected.”
Dr. Gupta said that as a nephrologist, he knew that a live kidney donation can be done very safely, without any long-term ill effects to the donor.
Along with keeping in-touch via phone calls, the donor and donee have met in-person a few times, the first of which took place before the donation procedure was done.
“Actually we both were at Loyola hospital for our final lab work at the same time,” Bina Gupta said. “There he was. I just went to him and introduced myself and gave him a big hug, and we talked couple of minutes."
“There are no words in the dictionary you can tell someone who is doing such an extraordinary, generous thing, just goodness of his heart to help other human.”
One person who wasn’t surprised by Dr. Gupta’s selfless act is Gopal Lalmalani, a cardiologist who recently stepped down after serving 12 years as Oak Brook Village President.
“I have known Dr. Gupta for over 40 years,” Lalmalani said. “He is a caring and compassionate physician, who took excellent care of his patients. He worked hard all his life to help his patients. In addition to being an amazing physician, he is a great humanitarian. Dr. Gupta is a true symbol of selfless service.”
Since receiving a kidney from Dr. Gupta about four years ago, Bina Gupta has done well, without dialysis.
“I visit my doctors every three months to make sure my kidney functions are good,” she said. “I am very lucky that Dr. Gupta lives in Chicago, and keeping in-touch makes me work really hard to keep myself healthy to make sure his good deed didn’t go to wrong person.”
While it appears to be a coincidence that the two people who will remain linked forever because of a kidney donation share a last name, Bina Gupta doesn’t really see it that way.
“Both sides of the family believe we were brother and sister in our previous life, and now with kidney we are brother and sister in this life,” she said.
Dr. Gupta encourages others to consider donating a kidney to help someone else.
“A successful live kidney donation is very much possible, even at age 71, provided you are in good health,” he said. “A large number of dialysis patients are waiting for a kidney transplant, and some of them die without ever getting one.”