Tioga man is thankful for gift of a healthy kidney
By Amber Wiedmer | Tioga TribuneGifts of all shapes and sizes are exchanged at this time of year, but a Tioga man has received a most unusual gift this year.
Sixteen years ago, Wes Johnson, owner of the Tioga Machine Shop, was diagnosed with a kidney disease that would eventually shut his kidneys down.
At Christmas time last year, Wes and his wife, Janet, went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for routine testing and received the news that Wes’s kidneys were going in to extreme failure.
Doctors said a transplant would be vital if he was to live.
He was put on dialysis in May and his treatments lasted four to five hours, three days a week.
“Dialysis isn’t a cure,” says Wes, “It’s a part-time cure.”
The stress dialysis put on his body was sometimes too much to bear. “There were days I couldn’t go to work,” says Wes, “I was so beat and wore out.”
But Wes was able to meet some new people, fellow dialysis patients and caregivers.
“You spend four or five hours with these people and you get to know them,” says Wes.
It was then that Wes’s family started to test to see if they could find a possible tissue match. There was only one match, his son, but he lives in Hawaii, so it made sense to consider someone closer to home if someone could be found.
Stacey Ward, Wes’s niece, called the Mayo Clinic to get the packet so she could test for a match. Wes never asked Stacey to help him out.
“I called Mayo and got the testing kit myself,” says Stacey, “I just never gave him a choice to say no.”
Stacey’s kidney didn’t match.
But after she sent her blood work she was asked if she would be interested in paired donation.
Paired donation happens when you have a family member or friend that needs an organ. Even though you may not match your loved one you could match someone else in need. That person would in turn find some one who could be compatible, until the chain is completed. Stacey agreed to the idea.
But after learning about how many people are in need of kidneys she wasn’t sure they would actually call. More than 84,000 people in America are waiting for a kidney transplant. About 12 of these patients die every day because there aren’t enough donors.
“I figured that we would be pretty far down on the list,” says Stacey, “Considering that Wes had just started dialysis and so many other people needing kidneys.”
But then Stacey received a call from Mayo saying they had a match for her Uncle Wes as long as she was still willing to donate. It was later when Stacey found out how they choose who will get an organ.
“They used to just go with whoever is next on the list but now they go with whoever has people to give,” says Stacey, “So they can help more people.”
Wes said Mayo’s ethics are extremely high.
“You can’t buy a kidney from someone cause they won’t transplant it,” he says.
Before Stacey could donate, extensive tests had to be performed, going over all aspects of her life.
The doctors looked at her emotional, psychological, physical, and medical health, before they would consider allowing her to donate.
“They wanted to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons,” says Stacey.
Over and over again Stacey was asked, “Do you in any way feel pressured to donate, like someone forced you?” Stacey responded saying, ”No I volunteered. I almost have to force him because he was so reluctant to put me through that.”
Anticipation hung in the air while Stacey trudged though the tests waiting to see if they would allow her to donate.
After her tests and meetings with multiple doctors, a committee met to determine if she met the criteria.
Stacey did have to change her lifestyle.
“I had to lose weight and be a little healthier,” says Stacey.
She kept thinking “It would be so nice to have it done and over with so that we could move on with our lives and he could feel better.”
After hearing that she was going to be able to donate Stacey felt relieved.
Wes, on the other hand, was a little leery.
“Stacey called me and I wasn’t too excited about it,” says Wes, “just the surgery part, because I have never had surgery before.”
And after reading some articles Wes became more reluctant.
“Some of them talked like it was like getting run over by a truck,” says Wes, “I thought boy this isn’t going to be a good deal.”
Wes and Stacey went down to Rochester at the end of October to complete final tests. Their surgeries were scheduled for Oct. 28.
Before they were put in surgery Wes and Stacey had to attend surgery class. In this class they teach you what to expect and how to deal with recovery from surgery.
While in the class Stacey met someone who was connected to their chain of paired donations.
“It was kinda neat to meet her.”