March ended Sunday without Joe Hanson getting a new kidney.
It was National Kidney Awareness Month, after all. And Joe, like the 96,000 or so others, is waiting for a donor. I have no doubt each of them secretly hoped for some March magic.
But he recognizes it is a lot to ask of someone to live the National Kidney Foundation motto: Spare your spare. After all, it requires weeks of testing and surgery.
So Joe remains tied to his dialysis machine, which embodies the cliche of being a blessing and a curse.
It keeps him alive by cleaning the toxins from his blood since his kidneys failed a year ago. But it also prevents him from working as an aerospace engineer, or skiing, or hiking or just about anything he enjoyed before being stricken.
“I do dialysis every day for about 16 hours,” Joe said matter-of-factly, without an ounce of self-pity. “I sleep with it.”
He starts the process in the evening, around 4 p.m. and then finishes his cycle by about 9 a.m. the next day when he disconnects.
“Without a donor, I’ll continue to do this indefinitely,” Joe said.
While he won’t say it has ruined his life, it’s certainly has changed it.
“It’s messed up my skiing this year,” he said. “And I can’t go camping, or hiking or do many outdoor activiites. I haven’t given up my motorcycle, though.”
Joe first learned he had a kidney disease in 1986 when a routine physical uncovered abnormalities. But the condition was considered fairly benign.
“The doctor said it didn’t look bad and I didn’t need to worry about it,” he said.
For 25 years, doctors monitored his kidneys every six months or so. And everything was fine until 2011.
“My kidneys actually failed,” he said.
He said doctors aren’t sure what triggered his disease, known as IgA nephropathy. It can be caused by various infections.
“They think I might have caught something when I was a teen,” he said. “It could have been a virus. They don’t know.”
All he knows for sure is that when it erupted, it was quick and devastating.
He had the choice of dialysis involving needles and visits to a dialysis center for a few hours every day or insertion of a catheter and longer daily dialysis cycles in his home, which he chose.
It’s a temporary solution, he hopes, as he waits on the National Kidney Registry for a live donor transplant.
Unlike other organ donations, kidneys seem to transplant best when taken from a living donor.
“The kidneys from live donors last longer,” Joe said.
But they are also in the highest demand of all organs, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
Joe remains hopeful, even after disappointments, such as learning his adult son would be a perfect match except that doctors discovered he has just one viable kidney.
“It was really depressing,” Joe said.
Other relatives and friends are undergoing the tests to determine if they might match his Type O blood and are healthy enough to qualify to donate, a process that is covered completely by his insurance.
“Maybe if more people were aware of the magnitude of the problem, they would consider being a live donor to get folks off this regimen,” he said. “Hopefully some will come forward and give the gift of life.”