Greg Hasberry returned to light workouts at 24e Fitness three weeks after his kidney transplant. He also works at the gym as a personal trainer. Photo by Madoline Markham.
Three years ago Greg Hasberry was preparing to compete in a bodybuilding competition, just as he had been doing for 20 years, when his energy level plummeted and his lower back began to hurt. He went to his mom’s house and sat down. For the next eight hours, he didn’t move.
Hasberry soon learned he had double acute renal failure and needed a kidney transplant. He spent the next month and a half at Brookwood Medical Center before returning home to begin a different form of dialysis treatments.
For years, Hasberry underwent testing at hospitals in several cities to try to find a donor. His brother was the closest match, but the brother was unable to donate because of his high blood pressure.
Three days a week he received dialysis, first for eight hours at a time and then for four. Hasberry said the process depleted his body of both bad and good things. It left him exhausted and sore.
“It literally leaves you with nothing,” he said. “It was pretty brutal.”
Hasberry was able to continue to work as a personal trainer until late April 2015, although he had to sit more than before. A few weeks earlier, he had received news that changed the trajectory of his physical journey.
“By the grace of God, [my donor] showed up with a kidney,” Hasberry said. “I was open to whatever and wherever, but [the kidney] was right here under my nose.”
Hasberry first met the donor* about 12 years ago, when he was working at the gym where the donor worked out. They would “talk shop” and about their families and children, seeing each other here and there over the years.
On April 7, the donor called Hasberry and asked to meet him at Starbucks. That’s when he told Hasberry he was willing to donate his kidney.
“I cried like a baby for like 10 minutes,” Hasberry said. “I kept asking him, ‘Are you sure? Are you serious?’ It felt like someone lifted a building off my shoulders.”
The donor had heard about Hasberry’s need for a kidney and that they shared an O+ blood type. At the moment he heard about the need, he “had a feeling” he would be the donor. UAB screened him, and it turned out he was a perfect match.
On May 20, they both went into UAB for the surgery. They exchanged texts in the meantime, a mixture of jokes and mentions of getting nervous.
After the surgery, they would visit one another down the hall. Hasberry was up and walking on May 21.
Today, Hasberry said in some ways their relationship “is pretty much just the same.” They’re still calling each other with jokes.
“But he’s more than just a buddy,” Hasberry said.
Typically transplant patients spend seven to 10 days in the hospital. Both Hasberry and his donor were released after four days. Three weeks later, Hasberry was back at work at 24e Fitness on Highway 31. His energy has returned, and his mind is clear again.
“Some of it is sheer determination,” he said. “I definitely feel blessed beyond anything I can think of.”
Now, he said, some of his clients aren’t used to seeing him full of energy.
“It’s funny,” he said. “They are sort of like deer in headlights.”
Although he has retired from bodybuilding, Hasberry plans to continue training his German shepherds for Schutzhund, a sport that develops dogs to fit its German definition, “protection dog.” He also stays active with his 16-year-old daughter Brittney, a guard forward on the Hoover High School basketball team, and has a 5K on the calendar.
After his initial diagnosis three years ago, a group of friends and clients organized a Hearts for Hasberry 5K to raise money for Hasberry’s medical expenses. The second year, Hasberry requested that the funds raised go toward the Alabama Kidney Foundation, which assists those in need of transplants with medication, rides to dialysis and other services.
In past years he didn’t have the energy to participate, but Hasberry’s planning to run it when the event returns to Mt Laurel in February.
The years of dialysis followed by the transplant have also inspired Hasberry to become a patient advocate. As of mid-May, he was one of 3,559 patients in Alabama and 101,694 in the U.S. waiting for a kidney transplant, according to the Alabama Organ Center. He’s serving as an ambassador for Alabama for the Dialysis Patient Citizens and will speak at the annual conference in Washington, D.C.
The experience also changed his outlook on life and has him committed to no longer take on stress.
“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “For the most part, why worry about things when God’s going to handle things? If it’s not about life or death, there’s no need to worry about it.”
*Editor’s note: Hasberry’s kidney donor requested that we not use his name in this story.