Holiday hopes: Dean Mitchell’s wish is a kidney transplant

In August Dean Mitchell was told his health was at risk, specifically his kidney.
Dean Mitchell is thankful, he's grateful for what he has, and he is hopeful for what he needs.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 7:09 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - It’s the time of year when people acknowledge what they are thankful for. Maybe they share gratitude for their loved ones, opportunity, community, or all of the above. For Dean Mitchell, he is grateful for each of these every day, especially now.

Back in August, Mitchell was told his health was at risk, specifically his kidney.

Even in the face of such adversity, he is not only still thankful for his life, but he’s hopeful. Mitchell is grateful for what he has and hopeful for what he needs.

“I have three boys, and they are all grown,” Mitchell said.

He is a proud father and husband.

“They are all grown, and two of them went to Auburn, the other went to the University of Alabama and I went to the University of Georgia, so we got the SEC covered,” Mitchell said. “And my wife went to Auburn too.”

He then moved to Washington D.C.

“I spent 27 years working in politics on Capitol Hill,” Mitchell said.

He retired with a desire for him and his wife to escape D.C.’s hustle and bustle.

“We decided to slow down and move back south where our family was,” Mitchell said.

He joined the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce and spent years in a leadership role.

Then came a golden opportunity.

“It was time for me to strike out and do something different, and the HudsonAlpha Wiregrass Institution is a wonderful opportunity for our community to really build those jobs for our future and hopefully have a place where a lot of our young people can plug in with great careers,” Mitchell said.

Last year, he became executive director of HudsonAlpha Wiregrass, a cutting-edge non-profit genetic research center.

“We have three sort of mission areas: education, research and economic development, and all of those are led by some very talented professionals in Huntsville, which is where our home office is, and I help them just keep the ball moving down the field and making sure that we are fulfilling our commitment that we are making to the City of Dothan,” Mitchell said. “Next year, there will be a brand-new Wiregrass Innovation Center being built in downtown Dothan and we’ll be excited to be there in the Summer of 2025.”

Mitchell’s professional life has never been better, his health not so much.

“I have something called IgA Nephropathy,” Mitchell said.

It is a disease that hinders kidney function.

“It’s where some proteins that are generally used to help filter the kidney, they surround my kidney and stop my kidneys from functioning as normal kidneys would function.” Mitchell explained.

This is a genetic disease the Mitchell family knows all too well.

“My paternal grandfather had it, my brother had it, my sister has it,” Mitchell reflects. “My brother passed away from this disease a few months ago. He had some other complicating factors. He tried to get a living transplant and was never able to find that match, and he was on dialysis for many years and unfortunately, the outcome for him was not one that we had hoped.”

A few years ago, Mitchell learned he, too, could be stricken. This year, a doctor confirmed his worst fears. He needs a kidney transplant.

His numbers held steady for a while, but began to drop.

“Over the last six-to-nine months, I’ve seen a real precipitous drop, but I am back on a very strict diet,” Mitchell said. “I have lost about 25 pounds.”

Mitchell was shocked when he heard this news.

“Although I wasn’t completely surprised, still when somebody says that you have got this serious disease and you have got to seriously think about having a transplant, and when you hear those words, it’s like, ‘Uh-oh, this is serious,’” Mitchell said.

Mitchell knew he couldn’t sit around and wallow in self-pity, and he also knew he couldn’t take this journey on alone.

He needed help from others. He asks people for three things, to pray for him, share his social media post, and let other people pray for him.

“If anybody would be willing to be a living kidney donor, I would greatly appreciate it because I want to keep working,” Mitchell said.

He knows he’s asking for a lot.

“That’s a big deal and I don’t take that lightly, and I am confident with the good Lord’s help it’s going to be a positive outcome,” Mitchell said.

There is hope. The United Network for Organ Sharing reported last year that kidney transplants surpassed 25,000 for the first time ever.

“I am confident that with a lot of prayers and a lot of support and the good Lord’s plans, I am going to get a transplant and have another lease on life,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell isn’t bashful about sharing his story with others. He networks with transplant recipients, and to others, the message he shares could be a matter of life and death.

“If you know that you have a family history of challenges in your life, take the time to go to a doctor and see it,” Mitchell said. “If I had a do-over, I would have probably gone 10 years ago and I would have probably stayed way ahead of this. I don’t have that do over now so I have to deal with the cards that I have been playing, and so I am doing the best that I can.”

A kidney would make Mitchell healthier, but his experience of needing one has made him appreciative and wiser.

“The rest of it is in God’s hands and the rest of it is going to work out the way He wants it to, and I am very confident that it’s going to be a favorable resolution,” Mitchell said.

As we approach Thanksgiving, Mitchell is especially grateful for the endless amount of support from the community of Dothan.

“I have been touched by people’s love and support and their prayers,” Mitchell said. “It means the world to me and has lifted me up every single day, and for this community to love me, I didn’t grow up here, but for this community to love me the way that they do, I am eternally grateful. Very grateful.”

Mitchell said there is a praise report though. He said his numbers have gotten better and he credits his diet change.

He goes back to the doctor after the first of the year to see where he stands.

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