A Husband’s Gift through Kidney Donation
Alumna shares the story of her personal journey
March 15, 2011
Angela Balcita, ’96, never planned to write about the kidney she received from her husband, Chris Doyle, ’96. She wasn’t going to tell the story of how they met at Loyola, how Doyle offered her his kidney, how they got married, and how her body later rejected the kidney after their daughter’s premature birth.
No, when Balcita set out to write her creative thesis to earn her MFA at the University of Iowa, she had selected a completely different topic. As a daughter of Filipino-American immigrants, she started writing about immigration and culture clash. Her classmates had a different idea.
“Everyone said, ‘Why aren’t you writing about this transplant? This is the story we want to hear,’” Balcita remembers.
So, somewhat reluctantly, Balcita changed topics. In her book, Moonface, published in February, Balcita describes how she and Doyle met at Loyola, how Doyle offered her a kidney, how they came through their recoveries together, and how they got married.
Ready to market her book, Balcita worked with an agent to draft a plan for the manuscript. Then, they sold the proposal to Harper Perennial. While she was completing the book, Balcita found out she was pregnant. A day after their daughter, Nico, was delivered prematurely by emergency cesarean section, the publisher e-mailed Balcita to ask for the manuscript. Balcita replied with an explanation and earned an extension.
After reading the manuscript, her editor told her that she wasn’t done. He wanted to read about the couple’s journey to Nico and Balcita’s recovery after her kidney failed her.
While still trying to recover, cope with dialysis, and care for their premature infant, Balcita set out to write what became the second half of the book—telling the story of a personal ordeal for her and for her new family that was only resolved by living through each day.
“I had to go back and relive it,” she said, trying to process all the couple had been through even as she wrote. “When you’re writing a memoir, you’re not only writing about what happened. You have to share some kind of wisdom. So you’re figuring out how you yourself are going to get through this so you can pass this wisdom on.”
Although her husband wholeheartedly supported her in writing the book, he reminded her that she did not have to complete it. “At one point Chris said, ‘You can just say you don’t want to do this anymore,’” she said. But Balcita felt she had to finish what she had started—and she wrote the second half of the book in six months. I felt like everything was falling apart, so I couldn’t have my book falling apart, too. It was really keeping me going.”
MAKING A MATCH
It was at Loyola where Balcita first realized she had a talent for writing. She came to Loyola from Greensburg, Pa., planning to major in speech-language pathology. Then she had a conversation with one of her writing professors, Margaret Musgrove—now director of Loyola’s Writing Center. “She made me reexamine my true interests,” Balcita said. “That’s what teachers are supposed to do: open your mind up to all the options.”
In spring 1993 Balcita fell ill. By the time she met Doyle, a Greyhounds soccer player, she had recovered from her first transplant—a kidney donated by her brother—and was looking ahead to majoring in writing—which happened to be Doyle’s major too. When they met at a soccer party, Balcita was worried about telling him about her medical issues.
“I never wanted to be ‘the sick friend.’ I never wanted to be ‘the friend with the kidney transplant.’ I was afraid that when I got this illness, it was going to be stamped all over my face,” she said. But Doyle responded in a matter-of-fact way. He later nicknamed her “Moonface”—now the title of her book—because of the shape of her face while on medications.
THE GIFT OF A KIDNEY
Their relationship grew naturally from its beginning at Loyola. When Doyle offered his kidney to Balcita in 2003, he did so in a straightforward way, though Balcita believed the transplant connected them on a deeper level. “When he offered the kidney to me, I thought here is this moment of kismet. This is the universe telling us we should be together,” she said.
After the transplant, while Balcita recovered quickly, Doyle fought an infection. Still his girlfriend at the time, Balcita worried that he regretted his decision to give her the kidney. Then as she became ill and was concerned that she would lose his kidney, she feared that the loss of the organ would mean the loss of their connection—and their relationship.
When her husband’s transplanted kidney did fail, Balcita and Doyle found joy in the fact that the kidney helped bring them their daughter, Nico. Much of the book is true to life, though one noticeable difference is that Balcita calls her husband “Charlie O’Doyle” in the book, a name Balcita chose to make them sound more like a comedic duo, Moonface and Charlie. Throughout the book, as the couple meets each challenge, they do so together and with surprising ease, humor, and support of each other.
“We’re definitely two different people, but we have the same goals in life,” Balcita said. “We’ve had a lot of struggles, but it’s really easy for us to be with each other.”
Today, the family lives in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood and Doyle—whose father, Kim Doyle, graduated from Loyola in 1968—works editing curricula for Connections Academy in Baltimore. Nico is a feisty, healthy 3-year-old girl. Balcita, who snatches time away from full-time motherhood to write, is enjoying the time with the daughter whose first month of life she missed when they were recovering in different hospitals.
Balcita occasionally gets nervous about what book reviewers will say about Moonface. One of her friends said, “Think of it as something you wrote for Nico,” and that made Balcita realize what a gift the book is for her daughter.
SHARING THE STORY
Although she had not planned to share her story in a book, Balcita has become comfortable with the idea of sharing it in this very personal, yet public, way. “This is my story. This is part of me. I have to tell people about this. I’m happy to share everything we’ve been through.”
That didn’t come as naturally for Doyle, who describes himself as a more private person. But his pride in his wife and her writing is clear and their witty banter in person reflects the couple’s dialogue in Balcita’s book.
Sometimes Balcita wonders how her life would have been different if Doyle had accepted a soccer scholarship to one of the other colleges and universities recruiting him to play.
“’What if you went to one of those other schools?’ I ask him,” she said. “And he says, ‘We would have found each other.’”
Read an excerpt from Moonface on the next page.