Ronald Corbin is a living legend in Martin County.
Before retiring in 2014, the Port St. Lucie resident spent 34 years as director of Martin County High’s internationally renowned OPUS choir. The gentle, soft-spoken music teacher made an impact on the lives of countless students and parents. He still keeps in touch with many of them — and is universally beloved in the community.
So if Corbin, 69, made the news public in 2017 that he’d soon need a kidney transplant, there would’ve been no shortage of willing donors.
But that would not be necessary.
For while his donor would turn out to be a former student, OPUS choir member and lifelong mentee, Corbin has a much deeper connection to his donor: She’s his only child, Candice Corbin.
Ronald recalls the day in March 2015 that his health changed forever.
“I was walking down the street when, all of a sudden, I felt strange — like I was drunk.”
He went to his primary care physician, who ran blood and urine tests, then referred him to a nephrologist.
The nephrologist’s diagnosis: He’d need to begin thrice-weekly dialysis immediately. She also warned him there was a chance he’d one day require a kidney transplant.
“Going for dialysis three times a week for six-hour sessions was inconvenient at first, but I got used to it,” says Ronald, who was still keeping busy by directing his church choir in Port St. Lucie.
However, last summer, the nephrologist recommended Ronald be placed on the national kidney recipient waiting list.
That’s when Candice — a 37-year-old New York City resident and accomplished professional singer and musician in her own right — took matters into her own hands.
Despite Ronald’s protestations, Candice got tested to see whether she would be a match.
“It took my breath away that she’d want to give me her kidney,” says Ronald.
“He knows how much I love him and how proud I am of him. I mean, I’m glad he ‘let’ me do this for him — but really, he had no choice,” says Candice with a laugh.
Preparing for the transplant
Cleveland Clinic Florida transplant surgeon Dr. Diego Reino does dozens of these procedures every month.
Even so, the Corbins hold a special place in his heart.
First, there’s Candice’s devotion.
“Candice was a particularly special patient for me because of her determination from the beginning to do what was necessary to donate to her father. All donors are special people — but she had a particular fire in her eyes about doing this for Ronald.”
Prior to the surgery being scheduled, Candice traveled to Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Weston location for a day of imaging, blood tests and exams under the care of more than a dozen physicians.
“They had to be sure I didn’t have any diseases or conditions that would disqualify me,” she says.
Reino stresses that, despite a loved one’s understandable concern about the welfare of a kidney donor, “for the donor, it’s a truly wonderful experience. The reality is that overall, it’s a low-risk procedure and the incidence of complication is incredibly low.”
The Corbins’ caregivers
The back-to-back two-hour surgeries were performed on May 22 — but the Corbins were never alone.
That’s because four of Candice’s high school friends — sisters Erin and Leah Ritland, Jenny Pyle and Jill Watson, all of whom sang in the OPUS choir — traveled from out of state to care for Ronald and Candice during their recovery.
“They were amazing,” says Candice.
The Ritland sisters had even set up a GoFundMe page to help defray some of the Corbins’ out-of-pocket expenses.
On the day after the surgery, despite feeling some minor pain, Candice was walking and well enough to be discharged.
She and her friends stayed at a nearby Airbnb rental while Ronald remained hospitalized for several days.
In addition to Candice and her friends, lots of folks came to visit Ronald.
“I’ve never been in his classroom, but from the way his students talk about him, this was a man who is incredibly influential in the lives of so many young people,” says Reino. “He touched their lives through music, and the way people surrounded him in his time of need touched us here in the transplant program.”
Ronald certainly wasn’t complaining: “I enjoyed being pampered.”
In the weeks following surgery, Ronald improved bit by bit; he’s still recovering — but making progress.
Doctors have told him to avoid crowded or confined spaces, but he can visit stores, parks and other open areas provided he wears a mask.
Last week, he was also cleared to drive: “I got my independence back on Independence Day.”
But by far the most challenging part of being a kidney recipient is keeping track of the dizzying array of medications — some 30 in all — that must be taken at certain times and in specific combinations.
“The first thing I did after he was discharged was set up alerts on his iPhone and my iPhone to remind us which medications he needed to take and when,” says Candice.
Seven weeks removed from surgery, Candice, now back in New York City, says she feels 90 percent recovered.
Ronald has a longer road ahead but he has no doubt he’ll get there.
After all, what his daughter — and his extended Martin County High School family — have given him the last few months “has been better than any gift I’ve ever received.”
CLEVELAND CLINIC FLORIDA TRANSPLANT PROGRAM
Cleveland Clinic Florida began performing solid organ transplants (kidneys, livers, hearts) in 2013 and is now the fastest-growing transplant center in the state, having performed 766 procedures (266 in the past 12 months). The facility’s multidisciplinary team of physicians, surgeons, nurses, transplant coordinators, dietitians, pharmacists and social workers recently earned a top five-star rating from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) for providing the best organ transplant outcomes in kidney transplantation, making it the only transplant center in South Florida to achieve this rating for kidney transplants.
THE GIFT OF LIFE
About 100,000 Americans are on the national kidney transplant waiting list and nearly two dozen die daily before receiving one. “Being an organ donor lets you give the gift of life,” says Cleveland Clinic Florida transplant surgeon Dr. Diego Reino.
And when it comes to kidney donation, Reino said folks of all ages have opted to make an anonymous “live” donation to a complete stranger. “We’ve had donors in their 70s. People who choose to do this feel incredible gratification knowing that they’re literally saving a life.”
To learn more about live kidney donation, visit kidney.org
HELPING RONALD CORBIN
Even for those with good health insurance, the out-of-pocket expenses associated with being a kidney recipient are significant. That’s why sisters Leah and Erin Ritland — two of Corbin’s former music students and members of the OPUS choir — set up a GoFundMe page in April for the beloved former teacher. The Ritlands’ goal was modest: $7,500; to date, the contributions total more than $23,000.
Donate to Corbin at gofundme.com/mr-corbin039s-kidney