Saugus resident Wyatt Leiby, 19, and his family have known since the day he was born that one day, he’d need a kidney transplant.
“Once they (delivered) me, the cord was wrapped around my neck, so that cut off oxygen to my kidneys,” Leiby said.
Though he got to run and play like the other kids, as Leiby grew up, his kidneys were getting progressively worse.
“When I was younger, I’d go to Children’s Hospital every six months to a year, and they’d just check on (my kidneys), and I’d get my blood drawn,” Leiby said.
“Wyatt didn’t even really know why he was going to Children’s Hospital so often until he was older,” his stepfather, Jeff Clericuzio, added.
All the same, Leiby led a normal life, even playing volleyball through high school, though he had to work harder to keep up with his teammates.
“My stamina is not as great as most people, so it takes me a long time to get to some of my friends’ levels,” Leiby said.
It wasn’t until last year, when Leiby entered stage 4 kidney failure, that doctors decided it was finally time to start looking for a donor.
“Right now, they’re below 30% functioning, which is stage 4 kidney failure, which sounds pretty bad,” Leiby said.
Little did they know that Leiby’s stepbrother, 20-year-old Nick Clericuzio, would be a nearly full kidney match.
How fate intervened
Before Jeff Clericuzio met Heather, his future wife and the mother of their twins, Nick and Kaitlyn, she was already friends with Maryanne Leiby, Wyatt’s mother, and the women remained close friends as they both started their respective families.
“Back in 2006, (Heather) got really sick, and she was really worried she wasn’t going to get better,” Clericuzio said, adding that Heather was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. “Over the years, she said, ‘If anything ever happens, I want you guys to take care of the kids.’”
After Heather died, Clericuzio and Maryanne became closer as they helped each other care for the kids and, ultimately, they got married in 2014.
“The family dynamic has always been there, I think just because they’ve known each other for so long,” Jeff Clericuzio added. “The kids have all grown really close.”
The search for a match
When Leiby started looking for kidney donors about six months ago, family members stepped up, though unsuccessful.
“There weren’t a lot of family members that were blood relatives that were matches or even viable donors,” Clericuzio said.
While Leiby was also put on the transplant list, COVID-19 made things difficult.
“The case manager said, ‘With all the COVID stuff, a lot of the surgeries aren’t happening … and organs are getting lost to COVID,’” Clericuzio added.
That’s when Nick stepped in, even though he wasn’t technically old enough to be a donor.
“The surgeon didn’t want me to donate to begin with, because I’m 20, not 21,” Nick said. “(But) he’s my brother. I feel like if your family, that’s an automatic thing, you should just donate. If you can and you have the ability to, it should be a no-brainer in my opinion.”
As an EMT, Nick had worked on an ambulance and saw firsthand what Leiby’s life could be like if he didn’t get the transplant and needed dialysis.
“I would transport patients from dialysis centers, and they’re insanely depressing,” Nick added. “It basically takes over your whole life, and it’s not fun. … I didn’t want my 19-year-old brother to go through that, so it was important to me to at least get tested and see if I can be of help to him.”
Not taking “no” for an answer, Nick began doing his own research using his resources at Palmdale Regional Medical Center, where he currently works.
“He did a lot of this on his own,” Clericuzio added. “Maryanne and I never asked him to be tested. … He asked the doctors at the hospital he works at, he asked them what the pros and cons were, he asked the people that he thought would have the answers for him.”
Nick finally convinced the doctors to test him, and he ended up being a 98% match for his stepbrother.
“It’s really crazy though, considering we’re not related,” Leiby said.
The road to recovery
The boys went into surgery on Wednesday and the kidney transplant was successful. Now, they’ll be home: Nick for eight weeks and Leiby for 90 days on immunosuppressants.
“It’s not his kidney, so his body will fight it,” Nick explained. “So the immunosuppressants make sure that the body’s not trying to kill his kidney while it’s still healing.”
As the surgery approached, Clericuzio reflected on his son’s attitude through it all, which he said has been very pragmatic.
“I’m very proud of him doing it, and I’m very glad he’s doing it on his own, … but as a parent, I’m also nervous about surgery,” Clericuzio added.
For Nick, it was never a question, and he was confident going into the surgery.
“It feels great,” Nick added. “It’s amazing. I don’t have to worry about him not having any energy, and I’m going to be perfectly fine. I’m 20 years old. I’ve got two healthy kidneys, I’ll take care of myself like I usually do, so it’s not really a big deal.”