Back to Surfing After Best Friend Donates Kidney for Kidney Transplant at Duke

By Esther L Ellis
November 21, 2023
Zach Stroud and Josh Jones stand holding surfboards at the beach

Zach Stroud (left) and Josh Jones (right) are back to surfing again after a kidney transplant.

Zach Stroud knew he could develop kidney disease after his 60-year-old father was diagnosed with kidney failure due to polycystic kidney disease (PDK). However, he didn’t expect kidney failure to happen so early. By the age of 43, Stroud needed a kidney transplant. Thanks to the kidney transplant team at Duke Health and the generosity of his living donor, best friend, and surfing mate, Joshua Jones, Stroud feels better than ever, and the duo is back to surfing again.

Need For Transplant Comes Earlier Than Expected

In 2015, Stroud was diagnosed with PKD, a hereditary disorder that causes cysts to form in the kidneys. Ultimately, the kidneys become enlarged and are unable to function. “My kidney function labs started looking bad, so I got an ultrasound done that year, and sure enough, I ended up having it,” he said. 

Despite having PKD, Stroud was in good health. A doctor living in Virginia Beach, VA, he regularly went to the gym and surfed any chance he got, often with Jones, his best friend for more than 30 years. Given his active lifestyle and his father’s history, his medical team believed it would be a long time before Stroud would need a transplant. “Generally, they say your PKD will follow the pattern of your parents,” he said. “My dad went into end-stage renal disease at 60, so I thought I had more time.” 

In October 2022, Stroud’s glomerular filtration rate (GFR), a measure of kidney health, dropped to 20, qualifying him for the kidney transplant list. That December, Stroud relocated to Raleigh and had his first evaluation at Duke, which showed his GFR had dropped again. “My GFR went from 60 to 15 in seven years,” Stroud said.

Help From a Friend

Instead of joining the national wailist for an organ, Stroud went straight to Jones. The two grew up surfing together, often with Stroud’s dad as chaperone. “Josh always hinted that he would be willing to donate his kidney, but I still had a lot of trepidation about asking him,” said Stroud. “His response was so funny. He was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’” 

Watching Stroud’s dad endure end-stage renal failure as a teen stuck with Jones. “Seeing Zach’s dad deal with kidney disease and then hearing the diagnosis from Zach, was pretty heavy,” said Jones. “I wanted to take some of that burden off Zach's shoulders.” Jones’ desire to help only grew after working at LifeNet Health, Virginia’s organ procurement organization. “I've actually seen the impact donation can have,” said Jones. 

The Impact of Living Donation

Living donation – when a living person donates their organ – is the preferred type of donation, explained Duke nephrologist and kidney transplant specialist, Goni Katz-Greenberg, MD. “Living donor kidneys do better in general. Also, patients who have a deceased donor may need two or three transplants in their lifetime, because those kidneys last seven to 10 years depending on different factors,” she said. Because Stroud and Jones were both 43 at the time of the transplant, Jones’ donated kidney could last for the rest of Stroud’s life.

Dr. Katz-Greenberg said anyone interested in donating an organ should get evaluated. “I often see people prevent friends or family from a donation because they think if they're not the same blood type, not the same age, or something else, that they can’t move forward,” she said, explaining that is not the case. “Reach out to us and we'll determine if they can donate.”

A Successful Kidney Transplant

Duke kidney transplant surgeon Bradley H. Collins, MD performed Stroud’s transplant in April 2023, breaking from normal procedure to support Stroud’s surfing. “Traditionally, they put the donated kidney on the right side,” said Stroud. “But I surf right foot forward, so when I fall, I tend to fall on the right.” After Stroud demonstrated his surf stance, Dr. Collins agreed to put the donated kidney on his left side instead. 

Seven months after the transplant, Stroud said he feels better than he has in years. The pair enjoyed a surfing trip to a surf resort in Waco, TX, and they plan to surf in Portugal in December. “We've been surfing together for 30 years,” Stroud said. “When we surf together, normally if somebody takes your wave, you would get a little upset, but when I see Josh catch a wave, even if he takes one of mine, it's just as good as if I caught it.”

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Kidney Transplant