By Beth Brosnan
When they first met as students at UMass Lowell, Craig ’96 and Darcie (Sicotte) ’95 Nuttall had a hunch they would be a good match.
Twenty years of marriage, two children and one life-changing event later, they discovered they’re not just a good match, but a perfect one.
In 2006, Craig, a software engineer, was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease — at the ripe old age of 35. “Like most young people, I’d put off my annual physical, so the news came out of nowhere,” he recalls. Darcie, a mental health counselor and children’s book author, was equally stunned. “Craig has always been so active and full of life, it was hard to believe he was sick,” she says.
For the next decade, Craig managed his illness with a combination of medication, diet and exercise. But by 2017 his kidney function had plummeted to less than 20 percent, and it was clear he needed a transplant. What wasn’t clear was when or how that would happen. Long waits are the rule when it comes to finding suitable kidney donors; in Craig’s case, so were long odds, because of his rare, B-positive blood type.
Yet when his physicians did find a donor, they didn’t have far to look. For years, Darcie had assured Craig she would give him one of her kidneys. “I was so touched,” says Craig, but he also knew how unlikely it was they would share not only the same blood type but also compatible antigens and antibodies, which lessen the chance his body would reject his new kidney. When the results of Darcie’s donor screening test came in, it showed she was a perfect match on all counts. Says Craig: “It was almost as though she willed it to happen.”
And so last July at Boston’s Tufts Medical Center, the Nuttalls shared something very few couples ever experience: back-to-back kidney surgeries. Not only were the operations successful, but the effects were immediate. “Right away I felt like I got my husband back,” says Darcie. “It was kind of like going through childbirth, because we were both exhausted and in pain, but there was so much joy.”
Joy continues to suffuse the Nuttall household today, along with gratitude for their skilled surgeons and the large network of friends — some stretching back to their UML days — who cared for them during their convalescence and watched over sons Stephen and Jacob. Both Nuttalls have returned to work full time — Craig as a senior software engineer at Phillips and Darcie to her therapy practice and a flourishing at-home business making custom embroidered pillows. Best of all, Craig’s long-term prognosis is excellent. “And,” he adds, “I’ll always have a piece of Darcie with me.”
More than once, Darcie has found herself thinking of advice that Larry Siegel, UML’s vice chancellor for student affairs, once gave her. “He told me that everything is a stepping stone, even things we don’t expect. The trick, Larry said, is to take that experience and move forward.”
Craig’s illness, which once seemed like a boulder about to crush them both, has become, she says, “the biggest gift I could imagine. To see Craig healthy again is just amazing. When you’re busy with kids and a job, it’s easy to go on autopilot. You can miss the joy of everyday things. This whole experience has taught me to be awake and alive to what’s happening now, and to treasure it.”