Staff Photo: John Bohn Jamie Jacobi, 21, saved the life of her brother Jake Jacobi, now 17, earlier this year when Jamie donated a kidney to Jake. The family resides in Duluth and Jake is a student athlete at Greater Atlanta Christian. Both Jamie and Jake continue in their recovery process.
DULUTH -- Whether celebrating Christmas, a birthday or any other special occasion, a selfless act can be the ultimate present.
The Jacobi family of Duluth learned that recently.
To keep her ailing 17-year-old brother Jake alive, 21-year-old Jamie Jacobi donated one of her kidneys. It's a gift Jake said he may never be able to top with anything but gratitude.
Born with only one kidney, which functioned at a minimal level, Jake learned in January that the organ was failing. An athlete and junior at Greater Atlanta Christian School, the young man was forced to withdraw from sports and had to miss classes.
His mom, Lori, said the family "knew from day one that he was eventually at some point going to need a transplant, but they just didn't know how long his kidney would maintain."
As his health declined, mom, Lori, and dad, John Jacobi, volunteered to be kidney donors. For financial reasons, the doctors could only test one person at a time for organ compatibility. Testing, they learned, was a time-consuming process for older adults.
"The doctors said that a younger person would likely be able to get through testing the quickest," Lori said.
John said that it soon became a race against time. "But that's when Jamie stepped up," he said.
A senior at Georgia Southern University, Jamie was in the middle of a strenuous semester of courses. In February, she volunteered, nonetheless, to begin medical testing for the transplant.
"I missed a lot of school to come home," Jamie said. "But it was something I had to do. I felt like things weren't really working out for everyone else, and it was causing a lot of stress in the family. I felt like this was the path God wanted me to take."
Her father was proud, but torn, over the decision. "We were very impressed with Jamie, but we were very fearful of having two children with kidney problems instead of one," John said.
Mom agreed: "We were so proud of her, but at first we were like, 'No way. You're not going to do it.'"
Jamie insisted, though, and it turned out she was a perfect match for a transplant. When the date of the procedure arrived, on June 29, her parents said the girl was in great spirits.
"She had a great attitude with the whole thing," John said. "We saw her about one minute before they pulled her back for the transplant, and she was extremely positive. We were scared to death, but she had this peace and calm about her."
Jamie said that as they wheeled her back on the hospital bed, "all the fear just went away."
Brother, Jake, said he wished he could have felt half as good as his sister that day.
"At the time, I wasn't very grateful, because I just didn't feel good. I was grumpy about everything. But afterward, weeks later, I became much more appreciative of what she did for me."
It was a long road to recovery following the procedure. It took nearly three weeks for the kidney to start working properly. There were complications. His body tried to reject the new organ at first.
"It was terrible for me, honestly," Jake said. "I couldn't get out of bed for a long time, and learning to walk again was hard." The young man was in the hospital for one week, went home for three days, then had to go back for a short time due to the complications.
Jamie recovered much more quickly than her brother.
"Mine wasn't bad at all," Jamie said. "I was actually up and walking the next day. Everything was definitely sore, but it could have been worse."
Two days after the procedure, the siblings got to see each other. Jamie was at Emory University Hospital, and Jake was at Egleston -- Children's Healthcare of Atlanta because of his age.
Dr. Larry Greenbaum, a director of nephrology at both hospitals, said he enjoyed helping Jake.
"He's a great kid," Greenbaum said. "There's nothing more exciting in my job than helping someone like him and seeing their lives being transformed."
Now fully recovered, Jake said he's feeling better than ever.
"When he went in he weighed less than 130 pounds," John said. "Now he's at his healthy weight, 165. Now, he's in better health than he's been in his whole life."
Jake, a competitive athlete, agreed. "I qualified for state my first week back swimming, and I'm picking up lacrosse this year, because I couldn't play contact sports before the transplant. Now, the doctors have approved it. I feel great."
Sister, Jamie, feels pretty good about it too.
"I'm just glad I could help," Jamie said. "It's just one of those things you feel led to do without ever questioning it."