BY JOAN ELOVITZ KAZAN | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
People casually throw around the phrase “you’re a lifesaver,” but very few can use the phrase literally. Milwaukee judge Derek Mosley is one of those people. Less than one year ago, Mosley’s best friend and fellow judge, JoAnn Eiring, saved his life by donating one of her kidneys to him.
Sitting in a Walker’s Point restaurant, Eiring and Mosley enjoy lunch and chat about their judiciary careers and love of sports and trendy restaurants. Their friendship began in 2003, when Eiring was president of the Wisconsin Municipal Judges Association. “One of my duties was to meet all the new judges,” she says. A judge in the town of Brookfield, Eiring connected with Mosley when he became a judge in Milwaukee, and Mosley started seeking Eiring’s advice on work and family situations. “I was bouncing stuff off JoAnn about how this whole parenting thing was going to go. That’s how it all started,” Mosley recalls.
The Life of a
Kidney donation begins with paperwork (and lots of it), and JoAnn Eiring had plenty of reading to do before she could donate a kidney to her best friend, Derek Mosley. “It’s pretty scary — kind of like reading all the warnings on a prescription label,” Eiring recalls.
The friendship expanded to include spouses and families. Eiring and her husband, Paul, are the parents of 31-year-old son Sam, who lives in Minnesota, and 28-year-old Katie, who lives downtown. Mosley and his wife, Kelly Cochrane, have two young daughters, 11-year-old Kallan and 8-year-old Kieran. The Eirings baby-sit for Mosley’s girls, and Mosley mentored Katie when she attended his alma mater, Marquette University. When Mosley coaches Kallan’s basketball games, the Eirings frequently cheer them on from the stands. Two families with strong bonds — and one act of selflessness that brought them even closer.
Mosley was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure after a routine checkup in 2013. Kidney disease runs in Mosley’s family, but he wasn’t prepared for the severity of the diagnosis. “My grandmother had the first kidney transplant ever in Chicago in 1968, and it prolonged her life for a substantial amount of time. ... My diagnosis was a shock because it was ‘end-stage’ renal failure, and I had to go on dialysis,” he says.
Mosley immediately turned to his best friend. “JoAnn was one of the first people I called after I called my wife,” he recalls. Eiring remembers that call. “Everyone has someone like this in their life — he’s my dearest friend, and you feel really helpless,” she says. “There’s not much you can do besides bake a cake.” And yet, Mosley is well aware that baking would not be Eiring’s strong suit. “Oh no, that couldn’t happen,” he adds with a laugh. Eiring readily agrees.
The decision to become a kidney donor was a virtual no-brainer for Eiring. “Before I was able to finish explaining that I was sick, JoAnn volunteered to get tested,” Mosley says. “I really was just being nice,” Eiring jokes. “I didn’t think I would be a match ... but I really wanted to be a match.”
“Look at us physically,” says Mosley, a 6-foot-2 former football and basketball player. “I’m big, she’s little. I’m black, she’s white. I’m male, she’s female.” Undeterred by the physical differences, the 5-foot-6, trim and energetic Eiring moved ahead. “I started donating blood and found out I was B positive. Derek is B positive, so that was a huge hurdle (we overcame). I have big feet and big bones, (and) I’m pretty sure I have big organs too,” she says.
In July of last year and armed with the unanimous approval of two transplant teams composed of doctors, psychologists, nutritionists and transplant coordinators, Mosley and Eiring went in for surgery. The next day, Mosley walked into Eiring’s hospital room. “We both teared up,” she remembers. “Me from seeing that Derek was up and walking and seeing for myself that all appeared to be good, and he, thankful for his awesome new kidney.”
A six-week recovery period followed, and other than a lifelong ban on ibuprofen and the need to stay extremely hydrated, Eiring is as good as new. “(The surgery was) easier than having a child,” she confesses.
Mosley’s post-transplant life also includes intense hydration, 22 pills every day, lab work every week, and as a result of immunosuppression, a lifelong ban on ibuprofen, sushi, rare meat and oysters. But Mosley is in good health — thanks to Eiring’s generosity. The pair say “yes” to every opportunity to share their story and increase awareness about organ donation. “We were really close anyway, (but) since the surgery, we’ve been thrust together for appearances,” Mosley says. On New Year’s Day, they joined a group of organ donors and recipients in California. “We walked in the Rose Parade. It was 5.5 miles,” Mosley adds. “We have the Cream City 5K coming up.” “He means walking it,” Eiring clarifies.
There’s an upbeat, easy banter between these two friends, and Mosley realizes that Eiring’s gift is one he can never repay. But Eiring humbly downplays the enormity of her gift, saying, “You do this for your friends — that’s just what you do.” M