Written by Richard Hendry, November 2018
Christmas day, 2014, we celebrated the birth of Christ as a family. As we shared together, we realized that our son, Stephen, aged 44, was not well. We were concerned at the sallowness of Stephen’s complexion and when he spoke, his words didn’t make a lot of sense.
Although he was determined to return to his apartment, we insisted that he stay the night with us. Reluctantly, he agreed – but to just one night. On December 31st when he went to work, the manager of his team noticed two things: one, that he was not supposed to be there, and two, that his walking was erratic. She immediately insisted that he had to go to the emergency department at the Sky Ridge Medical Center. This probably saved his life.
Emergency Room doctors informed he, and us, on New Year’s Eve that Stephen was suffering from total renal failure and that of all the patients in the ER, he was the sickest. His kidneys had failed due to undiagnosed high blood pressure which resulted in a number of mini strokes as his brain sought to protect itself from damage.
Although Stephen had regular checkups while serving in the United States Navy and during the years he was married, he had been unaware, in the years following, that his blood pressure was gradually climbing until it reached a point where it almost caused his death. When admitted to hospital his blood pressure was around 200/120.
There is a reason that high blood pressure, or hypertension, is called ‘the Silent Killer’. Most patients with high blood pressure have no symptoms to alert them to their elevated pressure. But over time, high blood pressure increases the risk of serious problems such as stroke, congestive heart failure, heart attack, and, in Stephen’s case, kidney failure. His doctors felt, that in time, the effects of his strokes would diminish and eventually disappear. This proved, in most part, to be true. However, kidneys do not heal once damaged.
The long process to gradually lower his blood pressure (too quickly, could cause his death), began while at the same time a dialysis machine took over the process of eliminating toxins from his blood. Thus, began a new reality in Stephen’s life, a reality which was difficult to accept. Three days a week, he would be connected from four to six hours to a machine which would filter his blood. His renal doctor commented that he should consider this as his part-time job…although somewhat flippant, his comment proved to be fairly accurate. Trying to balance, work, sleep and dialysis was trying – to say the least. Stephen was placed on the kidney transplant list in the hope that a kidney could be found, but the facts of this happening were depressing.
In Colorado, over 2,000 people are currently waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, (94,000 nationally). 19% of current transplant candidates in Colorado have been on the waiting list for 5 years or more.
Stephen’s sister, Cushla, was determined to donate one of her kidneys if she was found to be a match. A wife, and mother of two small children, she diligently set about to meet the requirements of a living donor. Due to a breech birth in 1968, she needed to have both of her hips replaced and lose over 20 pounds. All this was completed in mid-2018. Cushla flew from her home in Michigan and testing indicated that she and her brother were a match.
After both experiencing a multitude of tests, surgery took place on October 29, 2018 at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Kidney Transplant Center. (Their transplant team was established in October 1985 and has performed more than 1,600 transplants to date.)
Cushla’s kidney was removed laparoscopically by Living Donor Surgeon, Dr. Marklyn Jones. It was placed in Stephen’s lower abdomen by Transplant Surgical Director, Dr. Tom Heffron. After a week, Cushla returned home to Dearborn, showing few effects of the surgery. Stephen’s recovery has been a little slower, but with few complications. He stayed with us for about three weeks. (A requirement for those who normally live by themselves.)
After almost four years of juggling dialysis and work and just plain living, Stephen is suddenly free from dialysis. Free to eat what he wants (except for grapefruit); free to travel, free to refashion his life. He will have to make regular visits to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s hospital to check on his recovery and take many anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life, but he considers this to be a small price to pay for a new vitality, new life, new hope.
The bond between brother and sister – always strong, is now stronger than ever. We are proud of our kids and the sacrifice one has made for the other and for the medical expertise that made all this possible.