Brotherly Love: The Loss of One Sibling Offers Life and Hope to Another
Sean Wilbert suffered a sudden stroke on March 29, 2018 and passed away on April 3. He was 50 years old. Sean’s son, Jalen Wilbert, 25, authorized organ donation on behalf of his father to honor his giving spirit and because there was hope that a directed kidney donation could be made to his uncle Stephen Che’ Wilbert.
“We were all in pain that day,” Jalen said. “When someone at the hospital asked if we wanted to donate, we all agreed that my father would approve of it. The thought of my uncle receiving one of his brother’s kidneys gave the family and me additional hope and comfort.”
A Protective Brother
Che’ was diagnosed with type I diabetes when he was just 13, which caused severe health issues that he struggled with into adulthood. A protective older brother, Sean did all that he could to look out for Che’. “As kids, we heard diabetes was a killer disease,” Che’ said. “Sean was only one year older than me but he thought he had to take care of me, so he kept a very close eye on me.”
Unfortunately, the chances that Sean would be a compatible donor for his brother were not great because Che’ has a rare blood type. “Our case was special, and the chances of a match were slim to none,” Che’ said.
While the blood tests which would determine compatibility were being examined, Jalen, Che’ and the family awaited the results anxiously.
“While at the hospital after the stroke, I learned my father had told some of his friends that he was thinking of giving Che’ one of his kidneys about two months prior,” Jalen said. “Being a living donor for his brother was on his mind. The thought that it might not happen was killing me, but ultimately they were a match.”
Che’ woke up from the transplant surgery with mixed emotions. “I felt good and bad at the same time,” said Che’. “I wanted a kidney. I didn’t want it this way though, but I came to accept it. I probably would’ve died waiting for a transplant if it wasn’t for Sean.”
Through the gift of donation, Sean looked out for his younger brother even after his death.
Che’ reflected on recent world and local events and emphasized that, “with everything happening in the world now, good people continue to do good deeds. He saved my life, and as a Black man, my brother also offered hope to other people so that their lives could continue too.” As an organ donor, Sean also saved the lives of two other men, one in his 40’s and one in his 50’s.
A Caring Father and Role Model
Jalen and Che’ both describe Sean as a fitness enthusiast and sports lover. More importantly, to those who were fortunate enough to know him, Sean was a giving man who touched many lives through his generosity, motivational advice, and support.
My father was extremely caring,” Jalen said. “Everyone knew him as a helpful man and a lot of people saw him as a role model and father figure. He was definitely a huge presence in my life.”
A couple of weeks before Sean passed away, Jalen and his dad had what Jalen describes as their most profound conversation.
“I had just returned from school and was trying to figure out my next steps,” said Jalen. “I was surprised that my dad randomly called me. We talked about career and work stuff and then he wanted to talk about us. He apologized for being so tough on me growing up; he didn’t want me to hold on to that. I told him he did his best and that I wasn’t mad at him for it. I understood he gave me everything he didn’t get growing up. Two weeks later he was gone.”
Jalen thinks about how different things would be if he and his family had not agreed to donate but has no doubt, they made the right decision.
“It’s one of the greatest blessings you can offer someone and the journey after donation also feels good. My father had a big heart and I know that if I could talk to my him today, he’d say we made the right decision as a family.”
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