Patient Stories

Beyond the canvas

Mr. Boccia paints his masterpieces a decade after his kidney transplant

Mr. Boccia paints his masterpieces a decade after his kidney transplant

In 2002, Edward Boccia, a world-rated expressionist painter and poet was doing some drawing studies from a model. He had become so weak from his kidney failure, that he had difficulty holding the chalk. “It felt like it weighed 50 pounds,” he says, “I could hardly lift it.” But since his kidney transplant at age 81, Mr. Boccia wields both the chalk and the brush. He has gone on to paint many more masterpieces.

Early diagnosis, anything but a still life

In his early 30s, Mr. Boccia was told by his primary physician that his kidneys were damaged – probably as a a result of the chronic high blood pressure he had for many years. His doctor told Mr. Boccia he would need a new kidney someday, but not at least for 30 years.

Actually he was luckier than that. Edward Boccia led a full life ““ teaching art for 35 years at Washington University, painting four days a week and summers. He took his family with him to Europe for several sabbatical studies. He published books of poetry. He received many national and European awards and prizes for both art and poetry. He was knighted to the Cavaliere al Merito della Republica of Italy by the Italian government. He received many local prizes and awards, including the Order of the Crown, King St Louis IX of France, from St. Louis University. Mr. Boccia retired as professor emeritus from Washington University at 65 and continued his productive and creative life.

Mr. Boccia says during all this time, he felt no symptoms of his kidney disease. “I was in great shape, I didn’t feel particularly tired, I ate a normal diet.” It wasn’t until he was 75 that the symptoms of his kidney disease began to interfere with his life ““ his energy was sapped, his mood altered. Several years later, he began hemodialysis dialysis three times a week, which he received from a dialysis center in the community. At that time, Mr. Boccia’s name was put on a list requesting a kidney donor.

The unexpected call

One evening in January 2003, feeling particularly down, Mr. Boccia went into his bedroom and said to himself, “This is it, you are going to die.” And that very night, actually at 2:00 a.m. in the morning, the phone rang. It was the transplant office at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “We have a kidney for you.” He got the new kidney that day from an anonymous donor.

The transplant nurse told him he was going to feel great after surgery.” I thought it was just a pep talk, but it was true. Immediately after surgery, a big weight left my shoulders, I was sitting up in my bed having a good time and my wife was shocked.”

Life changes

The physical manifestations of kidney disease immediately resolved ““ the grey pale complexion, the excess fluid in his abdomen and legs. He looked healthy. The new energy provided by the kidney transplant has let Mr. Boccia continue to paint and be shown, and write and be published.

His Washington University renal specialist, Daniel Brennan, MD says the decision about who receives a kidney is not made based on age, but on the general health and expected activity level of the recipient. Mr. Boccia was never told any facts about the donor, but he is grateful to whoever it was. Grateful too is the art world, which has been able to enjoy his work for another decade.