Jesse Dick has known since his little brother was born he would one day be called on to save his life.

Nathanael Dick, now 9, was born with limited function in one kidney and none in the other. His family was told he would eventually need a kidney transplant. His brother was a blood-type match.

So on April 20, four months after his wedding, where Nathanael was page boy, Jesse flew to Auckland from his home in Invercargill for the gruelling operation.

Jesse was 15 when Nathanael was born in Southland, where he lives with his parents Carla and Grant Dick and eight of his nine siblings.

After he was diagnosed as a baby, his older siblings and parents were tested and it was discovered Jesse and Grant were blood-type matches, making them suitable kidney donors.

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They planned for Grant to donate a kidney first and Jesse to give another later in life as donated kidneys usually only last about 15 years.

"We knew from early on that he would need a donor so I was always prepared to be the one," Jesse said.

The self-professed adrenaline junkie, who manages a surf and skate store, told the Weekend Herald he had a kidney-shaped tattoo on his arm which served as a reminder not to push himself too hard or do anything stupid at the skate rink or ski slopes.

"It's just a little reminder that Nathanael needed me alive and healthy.

"Binge drinking and doing drugs and stuff - I stayed away from a lot of that."

Jesse had also battled depression and knowing Nathanael needed him kept him going during dark times in his life.

Transplant recipient Nathanael?= Dick, 9, and his brother Jesse Dick, 24, who donated his kidney. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Transplant recipient Nathanael?= Dick, 9, and his brother Jesse Dick, 24, who donated his kidney. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

The family had thought Nathanael's existing kidney would keep functioning until he was at least 10 and then Grant would donate one of his kidneys.

However, the need for a transplant, and for Jesse to be the donor, came earlier than expected after Nathanael went into kidney failure earlier this year.

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After Grant underwent tests to prepare for the surgery, doctors told him he could not donate his kidney because of the effect it would have on his own health.

"When I was given the news that I couldn't go any further I went to [Jesse] and I said 'look I've got to step aside', Grant told the Herald on Sunday.

"He said 'I've got this dad. I don't want you to worry about it. I've got this. I've always known this is my job and I'm going to do it'. That was his attitude from the beginning, which is awesome."

The brothers had the surgery at Auckland City Hospital.

Watching two of their sons undergo major surgery was difficult for Grant and his wife.

"It's really been absolutely mixed emotions," he said.

"Knowing that your son is going into hospital to have an operation that he doesn't actually need - someone else needs - is a hard thing to watch. But it's also an awesome thing to see your son step up and not even think about it and do it unselfishly."

The Dick family at Jesse Dick's wedding in December. Photo / Supplied
The Dick family at Jesse Dick's wedding in December. Photo / Supplied
Nathanael Dick as a page boy at his brother Jesse's wedding. Photo / Supplied
Nathanael Dick as a page boy at his brother Jesse's wedding. Photo / Supplied

Without the transplant Nathanael would have had to be on dialysis for the rest of his life.

"It just means freedom for him," Grant said.

Carla said although Nathanael realised Jesse had given him a "real gift", he probably would not realise the magnitude of the transplant until he was much older.

Both Jesse and Nathanael are recovering well. Carla and Nathanael will stay in Ronald McDonald House in Auckland until early June, while Grant and Jesse will return to the South Island soon, along with the siblings.

The family had spent about seven weeks apart while Carla and Nathanael were in Auckland preparing for the surgery.

When ASB Bank heard this they flew Grant and the couple's other children up to Auckland to surprise Carla the weekend before the surgery.

Watch the video at the top of this story to see what happened next.

About kidney donation in New Zealand

• Kidneys are bean-shaped organs that filter waste from a person's blood to produce urine. Most people are born with two of them. They are located just below the rib cage on either side of the spine.

• Kidney failure is when the kidneys lose the ability to remove waste from people's blood.

• When someone's kidneys fail they usually have to go on dialysis, where they hooked up to a machine in hospital that cleans their blood. This can take hours and sometimes must be done multiple times per week. Thousands of New Zealanders are on dialysis.

• Last year, 187 kidney transplant operations were performed in New Zealand - 69 were live donor transplants and the other 118 came from 73 dead donors.

• About 50 per cent of live kidney donors are related to the recipients of their kidney.