• Transplant

    Sharing Mayo Clinic: Kidney transplant gets chef back to the kitchen

As a chef, Melvin Austin was used to working odd hours. Soda, sweet tea, and chocolate cake kept him awake during graveyard shifts, along with a 2 a.m. snack.

Melvin wasn’t too worried until one day in 2002, when he arrived at work out of breath.

"I thought I was overworked, and I needed rest. Plus, I knew I was overweight," says the 55-year-old Gainesville, Florida resident. But Melvin’s boss sent him to the hospital. “Then I found out I had kidney failure.”

Though he continued to work, Melvin’s condition deteriorated, and he began dialysis several times a week near his home. Over the next decade, he continued with dialysis and focused on exercise and proper nutrition.

Melvin was originally told a kidney transplant wasn’t an option, but one of his nurses and a nutritionist in Gainesville encouraged him to ask again. Melvin visited several transplant centers before choosing Mayo Clinic, about two hours north in Jacksonville, Florida.

"Mayo Clinic took me as I was and gave me hope,” says Melvin.

On Jan. 6, 2021, he got the call a match was found. “I almost did a somersault; I was so excited to be done with dialysis after 12 years!”

Today, Melvin is doing well, still cooking, but with a different focus. “Fresh is best. And I was always adding salt; now I don’t."

He adds that he’s amazed at how his body has recovered since the transplant and how the foods he once craved are now unappealing. “I used to crave pork, and ribs. Now I don’t eat pork. I eat chicken and salads now. And I drink lots of water, no soda."

Austin credits his three children and a close friend who served as his caregiver for their support over the past two decades. "They all did a great job at helping me on this journey. They all kept me on track and made sure that I was going to my appointments. I thank them and love them dearly," he says.

And while he is grateful to the kidney transplant team at Mayo Clinic and all the staff who cared for him before, during and after his transplant, Austin notes he is most thankful for his donor and their family, who gave him a second chance at life. "I named this my precious gift Miracle.  Miracles happened every day, but this is the best one I’ve received," he says.

He encourages others to take care of themselves and "never give up hope."