A Mother's Gift

updated 12/05/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/05/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

For three months after his kidney transplant last January, Steven Cojocaru was feeling groovy. The Entertainment Tonight and Insider correspondent (and former West Coast style editor of PEOPLE) was back chatting up celebrities on the red carpet and gleefully pointing out their fashion highs and lows. And he was his usual jovial self during a visit on Oprah. "I felt like Superman," says Cojocaru, 43, who'd been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 2004. Then things started to unravel. Tests showed his new kidney was infected with a virus and would have to be removed. Suddenly Cojocaru was facing a lifetime of dialysis; that is until his 70-year-old mother, Amelia, offered him one of her kidneys. Cojocaru talked to PEOPLE's Tom Cunneff about his difficult year and his bond with his mom, which is now stronger than ever.

As soon as I came home from appearing on Oprah in April, I started getting really sick, feverish, aching, weak. I knew something was wrong. My doctor ran tests and told me I had a polyoma virus, which is very rare. I started something called IVIG, which boosts the immune system. By mid-June my doctor, Stanley Jordan, and I knew the kidney was just not coming back to life. He had tears in his eyes when he told me we had to get rid of it. "It's poisoning you, and it's going to kill you," he said.

My friend [Abby Finer] had given me one of her kidneys and to have it removed was like a bad episode of Days of Our Lives. I felt so racked with guilt to think that she went through this for nothing. But she was so calm. She said, "Look, we did what we could." After my doctors removed the kidney in June, they were hopeful that my old kidneys still had a bit of life in them, but they were down to 3 percent function. I had to hear a word that I never wanted to hear: dialysis. It sounded like the boogey-man to me. My first dialysis was in early July. The nurse came in with the ugliest, creepiest machine. It looked like my first blow dryer. I had to be on it for four hours at a time, three times a week. It recycles your blood and filters it. My mom was with me, and I turned into a 5-year-old child. I held her hand the whole time. It really threw my body out of whack. I had severe aching, severe chills, severe heat, just wildly uncomfortable. I slept a lot and whined a lot.

I wanted a second transplant, but we couldn't find a match. I hadn't even considered my mother. She had offered when I first needed a transplant, but I was so snarky. I said, "Don't you think you're a little long in the tooth? I think once you get a discount at the movies, you're disqualified from giving a kidney."

But she kept coming with me to my appointments and Dr. Jordan got to know her. One day he said, "I'd like to have your mother tested. She's extremely spry for her age." So she tested, and he called me up and said, "She's the same blood type, and internally she's so young, it's a medical marvel." But I gave a firm no: "I'm not subjecting my mother to this at her age." Then I started talking to some friends who are mothers, and they said, "This isn't your decision to make. A mother will do anything for her child." It started to become very poetic. I realized there's something here that's bigger than me and my mom. Let's go ahead and do it.

The operation was on Oct. 11 and it went very well. My mother was out of the hospital in a day and a half. She had pain, but she's from the old country. She's not a complainer. I'm getting stronger every day. I'm going for walks now and my big mouth is coming back. I'll probably go back to work in December.

My mom has lived with me for almost a year on and off now. We've developed this bond that we can't even talk about—it's too emotional. We talk for hours and watch Sex and the City with her tickling my arm. I didn't think it was possible, but this whole experience has brought us closer.

I'm on steroids now to help my body not reject the kidney, and they made me blow up. I started this whole adventure at a male-gamine waif weight of 145. After the second transplant I went up to 220 lbs., and I'm now in the 170s. It was like being put in a fat suit. But this has been the most freeing experience in the world because I just don't care about so many things anymore. I'm living in the moment now. If I want to walk down Sunset Boulevard naked singing, I'm going to. I still have a vapid side, but the private me is utterly transformed.

From Our Partners