BY MARK TAYLOR, POST-TRIBUNE CORRESPONDENT
The Seabrook family of Gary knows something about giving.
And they're grateful for the gift they received in return -- the life of their father, grandfather and husband, John Timothy Seabrook.
In 2001 after John Seabrook, 67, told his family he couldn't tolerate any more kidney dialysis, his son-in-law Jesse Washington, of Gary, volunteered to donate a kidney. Washington, 44, who works at Westville State Prison, was a match for his father-in-law, and the transplant surgery was successful.
Nine years later when Seabrook again needed a kidney transplant, his oldest daughter, Janet Seabrook, stepped up. Janet Seabrook, the founder and executive director of Community HealthNet, missed more than a month of work recuperating.
"I am blessed to have such a family," said John Seabrook, a slow-talking, deliberative man who still can't seem to process his good fortune.
The Seabrooks are a tightly knit family whose clear affection for one another is typified by gentle bantering and laughter. But in his time of need, the children and sons-in-law rallied around the man they call "Big Daddy."
John Seabrook and his wife of 46 years, Senella Seabrook, raised five daughters in Gary's Midtown neighborhood. He worked for the Budd Co. for 10 years until it closed, retired from Methodist Hospitals and later worked for and retired as transportation fleet director for the city of Gary.
The two transplants changed his life, said John Seabrook, who is called Tim.
"I feel so good now it scares me," he chuckled. "It (the transplant) has made such a difference in my quality of life. I haven't felt this good in so long."
Having witnessed the results of organ donation, the Seabrook family wants to amplify that message of giving. Blacks needing organ transplants die in disproportionately higher numbers waiting for organs because kidney disease and other conditions that aggravate it affect them in disproportionately higher numbers.
While blacks already volunteer to donate in numbers commensurate with their percentage of the population, around 14 percent, the need for black donors is even greater because of higher rates of kidney disease. That means a larger pool of potential black donors is required to find healthy matching donors.
As of Dec. 15, there were 110,133 people registered on organ transplant waiting lists in the United States. But from January-September of this year, only 21,648 transplants were performed. Every day 18 people die waiting for organ transplants.
The Seabrooks were determined that wasn't going to happen to Big Daddy. But in 2001 his five daughters weren't able to donate because of pregnancies or health issues.
Washington, a Gary Wallace graduate, learned his O positive blood type made him a universal blood donor while he served in the military. "He needed one and I had two, so I just offered one up," the father of two children said matter of factly. "Why not? And I would do it again. It got him another nine years."
John Seabrook remembered what he told Washington when he first offered to donate.
"Go home, son," Seabrook laughed.
Washington said it took one week for his wife, Dina Washington, to convince her father that he was serious.
John Seabrook was diagnosed with hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, nearly 40 years ago, a condition that runs in his family. His mother died from hypertension-related causes and his father passed from kidney failure.
"My doctor told me when I was 27 that if I didn't take my medication regularly, in time I would have problems. And he was right," he said. "But at 27 you're young and you think you'll live forever."
John Seabrook, the youngest of 17, said some of his brothers and sisters have hypertension and kidney disease.
"Now there are only four of us left," he said.
He said in his early 50s he began to notice changes. "I couldn't sit for very long and had steady back pain," he recalled. "My ankles swelled up."
From his high school football days, when he weighed 235 pounds, his weight rose to 265. "They tried a few things to turn it around with medication, but it was too far gone by then," he said. "I went about three years more before my kidneys began to fail."
He was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, a progressive loss of kidney function that usually requires kidney dialysis treatments three to four times per week. By 2000 he was being treated at a dialysis center in Gary's Glen Park neighborhood.
Senella Seabrook said her husband would return from the three-hour dialysis sessions drained and exhausted. He had to adopt a low-fat, salt-free diet for dialysis patients and needed to watch his intake of certain proteins.
While on dialysis he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a condition caused by his hypertension.
"I was on the transplant list and had planned to stay on dialysis until Janet would be cleared after her pregnancy to give a kidney," John Seabrook said. "Then Jesse came in and offered."
The operation was successful and Seabrook felt better and worked until his 2004 retirement from the city of Gary.
Except for a bout of pneumonia unrelated to the transplant that hospitalized him and drained 100 pounds off his frame, things went well until 2009, when his blood pressure grew uncontrollably high and the kidney he had received started to fail. John Seabrook returned to the dialysis center in April 2010.
"This time it was worse," Senella Seabrook said. "He was always tired and when he returned home and the arm they dialyzed was swelled up like Popeye's."
'It's like night and day'
"I didn't talk a lot about it," Janet Seabrook said of her decision to donate a kidney to her father. "I looked at Mom and Dad and said: 'I'm doing it and that's it.' "
After her daughter volunteered to donate, Senella Seabrook said she put her foot down. "I was the bad guy. I told Janet and John not to do that. I had to do a lot of praying and get my mind around that. This really hit home with me. I believe in organ donations, but I thought something bad was going to happen to my daughter or my husband. It was very emotional for me," she said.
Janet Seabrook remembered the angst her decision to donate caused her mother. "She was more of a basket case the second time than she was after the first transplant," she said. "Right up to the operation she was crying and worrying. She lost weight and wasn't sleeping well. You can't believe the look of relief when she saw we were both OK. It was a 360-degree change once she saw her family was intact."
Janet Seabrook, a physician and mother of two, said she felt surrounded by a strong support system. "My family went to bat for me at home and at work my chief operating officer and staff stepped in with my board's assistance and I didn't have to worry about anything. My husband (Dr. Augustine Izah) helped out and even cooked. And my mom was there when both of us needed her."
The actual date of the scheduled transplant operation caused John Seabrook a little anxiety.
"It was Friday, Aug. 13," he recalled. "Now, I'm not a superstitious man, but I really had to pray on that one."
But the transplant procedure went off without a hitch. Without a family member or friend to donate, John Seabrook likely would have waiting three to five years for an available kidney donor.
"I'm healthy and suffered no aftereffects," Janet Seabrook said. "There were no complications and no costs to me, outside of missing work. A lot of people don't know that, but there is no liability or costs to the organ donor. And it is worth it every time I see my kids smile when their grandfather pulls up. Seeing that joy in their eyes and seeing him healthy makes it all worthwhile."
John Seabrook said the contrast between the two surgeries was amazing
"It's like night and day," John Seabrook said. "After the first transplant I got out of bed and immediately passed out. I was in the hospital for five days. With today's technology, transplant patients are up and walking hours after surgery. The incisions are smaller, too. This time I got up and walked out the door and came back. After breakfast, I walked down the hall and back. The nurses had a chart on the wall recording the laps around the unit. Eight laps was the record and I said I'm going to beat that. I quit at 12."
He said he felt intense pain from the wounds after the first transplant."This time I didn't even need the morphine they offered. The day I came home I felt so good that I put my shoes on and walked the eight blocks to the dialysis center just to say hello and to tell them that I'd had a transplant that weekend."
Senella Seabrook said much has changed in the transplant process since 2001. "Now there is financial help," she said. "Northwestern has patient advocates, case workers and case managers who follow up. That didn't exist 10 years ago. Today there is help with the pharmaceuticals."
Recognizing Americans were dying because they couldn't afford the high costs of kidney dialysis, Congress passed a bill in 1972 allowing Medicare to cover kidney dialysis patients. But it doesn't pay all of the transplant costs.
Transplant recipients must take immune suppressant medications to reduce the possibility of postsurgical infections and the chance their bodies will reject the new organ. The cost of those drugs can range from $1,500 to $3,000 a month.
Now they're living examples
It doesn't make sense to Jesse Washington that more people don't sign up to become organ donors.
"There's a lot of irrational fear out there and a lack of education and awareness about organ donation," he said. "People feel like they're losing something."
Dr. Seabrook agreed fear is biggest barrier to organ donation. "You'd be surprised how little information is out there, how little people know about organ donations," she said. "We need to raise awareness.
"You show them a living example. It doesn't have to be a doctor. It can be a layperson or an advocate out there dispelling myths and rumors and showing that when you donate an organ, nobody is taking anything away from you, but you're giving the gift of life."
RELATED STORIES• More than half of Hoosiers sign up to be organ donors
• Experts say minorities have greatest need
AFRICAN-AMERICAN ORGAN TRANSPLANTS
* The incidence of kidney failure among blacks is 998 per 1 million, compared with 273 per 1 million among white Americans. Blacks comprise 29 percent of all patients treated for kidney failure, but comprise only 14 percent of the U.S. population.
* African-Americans develop kidney failure at an earlier age than white Americans. The mean age at the start of treatment for kidney failure is 56 years old, compared with age 66 in white Americans.
* Death rates from high blood pressure-related causes are 15.6 per 100,000 for white males, but 51.1 per 100,000 for black males, 14.3 per 100,000 for white females and 37.7 per 100,000 for black females.
* Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure in blacks. About 14.7 percent of all blacks over the age of 20 have diabetes, twice the percentage of white Americans.
* High blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney failure among blacks. Hypertension remains the leading cause of death overall for blacks.
* Black people are disproportionately prone to developing high blood pressure. More than 40 percent of blacks are believed to have high blood pressure.
* Nearly 110,000 Americans are registered on waiting lists to receive organ transplants; 87,300 of those are waiting for kidney transplants. The next most requested organ on the transplant waiting list is the liver, with 16,100.
* More than 1,380 Hoosiers are waiting for organ transplants. Of those, 1,175 are waiting for kidneys. In 2009, 50 Lake County residents received organ transplants. Through September 2010, 57 Lake County residents have received organ donations, while 222 remain on waiting lists.
* Of the 13,156 single kidney transplants performed in 2008 in the U.S., 5,968 were from living donors and the rest were from deceased, also known as cadaveric donors. In addition, 837 kidneys were transplanted in combination with pancreas transplants.
* 3.7 million of Indiana's 6.2 million residents have indicated their decision to become donors on their driver's licenses.
* The incidence of end-stage kidney failure is rising fast, with more than 526,000 Americans currently receiving treatment for kidney failure. This includes more than 367,000 dialysis patients and 158,000 people with functioning kidney transplants; 61 percent are white and 31.7 percent are black.
Information: National Kidney Foundation
Sources: National Kidney Foundation/ U.S. Renal Data System Annual Data Report and the Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Indiana Organ Procurement Organization/Gift of Hope.