And there Kyle Bailey was, sitting in his hospital bed at 80 pounds recovering from his second major surgery.
Leading up to that, Bailey, 31, had the damning thought coming in and out of his mind – is this it?
Six years after a double lung transplant, Bailey needed a liver and kidney that took a hit due to cystic fibrosis cirrhosis. Always cold, always sluggish and once waking up with “a tire shape” of fluid around his waist in February, he knew he needed help, and fast.
“The kidney donor list is very long … and I didn’t have five years,” Bailey said. “I didn’t even know if I had five weeks.”
Thirteen weeks after waking up in that University of Michigan hospital room barely able to walk, Bailey is back in action. Over the weekend he was back on the golf course with his younger brother – Port Huron sophomore Nick Bailey – to carry his bag and caddy him for 54 holes over the weekend.
Considering the state Kyle Bailey was in a few months ago, it’s more than just caddying for a weekend. It’s about 13 weeks of strength, the extraordinary gift of giving and the grind to help his brother become one of the area’s top golfers.
A new life, a new brother
Salvatore Talluto was as generous and hardworking as they come.
In his 24 years of life, Talluto constantly took the extra step for his friends to make their lives a little better whenever he could. Even in June of 2011 when Talluto passed away in an accident, he still was able to give people the priceless gift of another chance at a healthy life.
“He was loved by many,” Talluto’s sister, Anna Wanagat, said. “He would go out of his way to do so many nice things for others. He had lots of friends. During the funeral there were so many people I have never even seen in my life.”
Before his accident even happened, Talluto talked to his mother about being an organ donor. The family was a little surprised, but he thought, why not? You never know what’s going to happen.
What happened since is this – five people received organs from Talluto that essentially saved their lives. One of those people is Kyle Bailey, who underwent a double lung transplant that summer after a nine month wait.
Needless to say, receiving the phone call from U of M hospital that day notifying him of the long awaited lungs stunned Kyle Bailey.
“I said ‘Excuse my language, but are you (expletive) serious?’” Kyle Bailey said. “She laughed and said, ‘Yes, I’m serious,’ because you don’t just expect that call out of the blue.”
Ten days later, Kyle Bailey was back biking and living life as anyone else would. It also wasn’t long after that until Kyle Bailey met Talluto’s mother, sister and girlfriend through mutual friends at a Starbucks on M-59.
“It was very bittersweet, exciting and nervous,” Wanagat recalled. “I just embraced him and it was very comforting to know that my brother still lives on through him.”
Over the years the two sides have stayed in constant contact, practically becoming a family member along the way.
“They’re great,” Kyle Bailey said. “I don’t know how much good I can say about them. They’re very accepting. I’ve met about 40 members and had some of the best food in my life there. I love them to death.”
Over the years of visits and occasionally helping to watch Wanagat’s children, that feeling has become mutual.
“Ever since my brother’s death there’s been a lot going on,” Wanagat said. “He’s been like another brother to me. Not just a friend — he’s like a family member.”
‘I would be forever grateful’
Kyle Bailey isn’t just one in a million. He’s one in a few million as he’s the only documented triple organ transplant recipient in Michigan.
Even though he’s one of the few people in the world with three donor organs in him, thousands just in Michigan are looking for their donors.
More than 2,500 Michiganders are seeking a kidney. Almost 400 are looking for a liver. About 100 are in need of a heart.
“I have met people in the last six months that say “Eh, what do I need to donate organs for?’” Kyle Bailey said.
Well, him being around to even field that question should be enough of an answer. Wanagat also knows the impact making that decision can have as she’s seen her brother live on through five different people.
“Why not give someone else the chance?” she said. “As a mother and a sister, if someone gave me that gift, I would be forever grateful.”
The process is as easy as registering online at michigan.gov, and Kyle Bailey has also gone to extreme lengths to spread the word. Caddying 13 weeks after a double organ transplant is impressive, but it seems simple compared to his Lexington-to-Muskegon run he accomplished in three days in 2012 that helped raise $59,000 for Gift of Life Michigan.
What he did that week and what he’s been able to accomplish since has been nothing short of incredible.
“It’s inspiring,” Nick Bailey said. “If he can do it, I can do it. Since he’s been through all of this stuff and he wants to go out and do big things.”
Back on the course
Kyle Bailey – now a PGA assistant at Solitude Links – can’t get enough of helping his younger brother reach the pinnacle of his golf game.
“The reason I get up is because of him,” Kyle Bailey said. “I was telling him I’m trying to be around when he’s 40.”
The relationship on and off the course is as healthy as Kyle Bailey is now, despite the 15 year age gap between the two.
“He’s amazing, and probably the best older brother you can have,” Nick Bailey said. “He takes me out everywhere, teaches me golf.”
What more could you want?
Ever since both transplant surgeries, Kyle Bailey has looked at life a little differently too. He said it’s not exactly as extreme as living life to the fullest every day, but it’s just the little parts of life that feel a little different.
“Before the surgery, I was uptight about crap,” Kyle Bailey said, “And now it’s just, ‘Eh, forget it,’ there’s way bigger stuff to worry about.”
All that’s to worry about now is living is life as any other person would, making people aware of the importance of organ donations and, of course, helping his brother with his putting and chipping.
So, why register to be an organ donor? Six years and three transplants later, Kyle Bailey is living proof it’s worth thinking about.
“I would say do it,” Nick Bailey said. “If an accident happens you can have the match to someone’s life and save him.
“He’s a big inspiration.”