Tracy and James “PJ” Spraggins, who married in 2003, were a perfect match – in more ways than one. Indeed, when Tracy sadly fell ill a decade later, the Birmingham, Alabama-based couple discovered that they were compatible in a potentially life-saving way. But first, doctors said that PJ had to lose weight. It was to be the start of a most incredible journey.
When she was just six, Tracy was diagnosed with Lupus – an autoimmune condition of which the symptoms can vary wildly. It’s characterized, however, by the immune system being tricked into attacking healthy parts of the body. And for Tracy, the condition had targeted her kidneys.
Though we don’t fully understand how Lupus comes about, it’s thought that genetic factors play a part. Indeed, Tracy’s sister also suffered from the disease. And tragically, she succumbed to complications from a kidney transplant aged just 34. Sadly, it was only a few months later that Tracy herself fell ill.
Late in 2013, the functionality of Tracy’s kidneys fell below 15 percent, and so she was immediately added to the National Kidney Transplant list. The wait, however, could have taken up to seven years. So, unable to sit around and wait, her husband PJ took action.
PJ, unable to see his wife struggle through such a long wait, volunteered for weeks of tests to see if his kidneys were a match. And, as it happened, they were. There was, however, a major problem. Owing to PJ’s size, doctors said that a transplant would be too risky.
Yes, with PJ’s weight at around 265 pounds, his blood pressure was unfortunately deemed too high to proceed with such a major procedure. And so, having experienced the initial euphoria of being a match, the news came as a crushing blow.
“They said I was a perfect match,” PJ told the Daily Mail. “But they wanted to check I was healthy and met their requirements. They sent me a blood pressure monitor, but they didn’t like the numbers.” There was, however, still some small hope.
Indeed, doctors told PJ that if he lost 30 pounds he could be reassessed. And so, knowing that his beloved wife would die without a transplant and knowing therefore that he was her best hope, PJ began an intensive fitness regime.
Then, after months of regular exercise and a change of diet, PJ reached his goal and returned to the hospital for another evaluation. The news, however, wasn’t good. Yes, despite his considerable weight loss, PJ’s blood pressure was still high. And so doctors still thought that the operation would be too risky.
On the day of the test, however, PJ had stopped to change a flat tire on his bike. Wearing the blood pressure monitor while he changed it, then, didn’t exactly help things. He told the Daily Mail, “My blood pressure was all over the place. The results came back and they said no again.”
PJ was stunned. “Needless to say,” he explained, “I was quite disappointed and confused upon hearing this news. I thought, what about all the weight I’ve lost? What about all the hard work and discipline that I’ve put into making this happen? How could this be?”
Indeed, having taken his own blood-pressure readings in the weeks prior to the second evaluation, PJ had been feeling positive. So had the hospital made a mistake? To find out, he decided to visit another hospital in Atlanta, Georgia for a second opinion.
But despite the weight he’d already lost, the Atlanta hospital told PJ that he needed to lose a further 60 pounds. Undeterred, PJ continued with his fitness routine with an unrelentingly positive state of mind. And ultimately, it paid off.
For his third evaluation, PJ attended Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Now, it was a full year since he began his weight loss-drive, and so this time he was going to do whatever it took to pass the test. After attaching the monitor, then, he refused to move for the entirety of the 24-hour reading.
“I put that blood pressure monitor on and lay in bed all day,” PJ told the Daily Mail. “And thankfully, it all came back good!” His tireless hard work and boundless determination had finally paid off. And, crucially, Vanderbilt Hospital gave him the go-ahead to donate his kidney.
So the couple temporarily moved to Nashville to make recuperating and post-operation check-ups a little easier. The transplant subsequently took place late in February 2015 – just over a year after Tracy was added to the transplant waiting list. And thanks to PJ’s hard work losing weight, the operation went without a hitch.
Yet though the operation was a success, the couple’s battle wasn’t quite over. Because musician PJ and special-needs teacher Tracy couldn’t work during their two-month recuperation, sympathetic friends set up a funding page. And not only that, but musicians local to the Birmingham area also set up a benefit concert for the pair.
PJ, incidentally, didn’t complete his quest alone. Tracy, in fact, wanted to make sure she was in tip-top condition before the operation, so she too decided to lose weight. Together the couple, by transforming their lifestyles, collectively lost a whopping 145 pounds.
But PJ only credits one person for inspiring him to complete his year-long, gruelling exercise program: Tracy. In the weeks leading up to the transplant he wrote, “She is faithfully going to work teaching her students every day (wearing a face mask so as to not catch any colds). Her strength and determination inspires me daily.”
Tracy told Fox, “The way my kidney function is now, it’s at 100 percent. And it’s the best it’s ever been.” PJ, meanwhile, told the Daily Mail, “It has just been amazing. To know that I did everything I could to give my wife a better quality of life is just the best feeling. I am so happy.”