Friendship is one thing, but when a friend doubles as a training partner for an endurance sport, that relationship automatically gets turned up a few notches.
That’s exactly what happened with Branis Pesich, an alumna of the Wayne State University’s College of Nursing, Jennifer Sheridan Moss, WSU professor of Classics and Latin, and their friend Tracy Besek. The three avid cyclists developed a close bond over the past eight years -- often while training for Wayne State’s popular, former cycling event -- The Baroudeur, which was last held in July 2022.
During this season of giving, Besek donated a kidney to Pesich, and Moss stepped in to serve as a caretaker following the life-saving transplant.
Pesich had been referred by her physician to get an evaluation on her kidney in February 2022, which led to a period of consistent testing over the majority of two years.
"It's been a long road of multiple testing, re-testing, lab work, scanning, consults, all that kind of stuff," said Pesich. “I was eventually approved just in October of this year, so it was almost 18 months of testing and requirements to make sure I was worthy of receiving a transplant."
Besek had noticed a decline in Pesich's activity in their weekly training events over much of the last year and, unbeknownst to Pesich, instantly put the wheels into motion for providing a solution for her friend once she was told the news over lunch last March.
"Branis is a lot like me, not really one to reach out and ask for help. But she shared with me the struggle and how she was going to start requesting help looking for a kidney donor and would be going on dialysis," said Besek. "From that moment, I knew that whether I was a match blood type wise or not, I was going to do what I could to help my friend."
After talking it over with her family, Besek decided to move forward with the process, discovering in the initial screening process that her blood type was a direct match for Pesich. She didn't break the news to Pesich until four months later.
"It was a matter of testing the health of my kidney and making sure my body could support my health with just one kidney," Besek said. "I started the process in March and there were several steps to go through and, at the time, I did not tell Branis. I kept going, 'Okay, I'm going to tell her after the next step,' but in case the doctors came back and told me kidney was no good for her, I didn't want to provide false optimism. It wasn't until August, after a bike ride in Dearborn, that I pulled Branis aside and told her."
The operation took place in late November and Moss chaperoned the event and volunteered as a caretaker for Pesich.
“Branis doesn’t have family locally, so when it was clear that she was going to need a transplant, she needed someone local to volunteer to take care of her, because they won't give you an organ unless they know that you're going to take good care of it and take care of yourself,” said Moss. “Of course, I agreed to that because she's one of my dearest friends. I moved in with her for whatever amount of time she needed me here with her, mostly until she’s able to drive by herself. She’s done incredibly well. I had no idea that you could get an organ and two weeks later be essentially fine.”
Pesich and Besek have been successfully navigating the recovery process over the past couple weeks and are looking forward to getting back on the bikes soon. Pesich said her number one goal is to be back cycling this coming spring.
"I'm beyond blessed. It's still emotional to think about," Pesich said. "It's almost unbelievable. It was a lot of emotion in that, like anticipating, but not really knowing, and being uncertain. There was the possibility of the surgery being canceled if something went wrong always hanging over your head, it was a draining, emotional time. I just feel so blessed."