Montrose Herald Journal, Montrose, MN
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published 2009


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Waiting with hope for a kidney

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

For Fran Smith of Delano, life seemingly changed over night. While she was going about her days as usual, there was just one little problem – or so she thought.

Over the winter months, she was having trouble getting her blood pressure regulated, but at that time she wasn’t too worried.

After some kidney tests were performed in January, Smith was admitted to the hospital, and the very next day told she had kidney failure.

“I thought the doctor was joking. After the shock wore off, I cried for two days,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, it’s the result of the gastric bypass surgery I had years ago. Even the doctor was surprised and hadn’t had a patient develop kidney failure because of gastric bypass surgery before. Who would have thought this could happen?”

Smith has a positive outlook and considers herself lucky because she is a good candidate for a kidney transplant.

Unfortunately, her husband of 25 years, Tim Smith, is unable to donate a kidney because of a heart condition. Diabetes prevents her sons Michael and Pat from donating as well.

A friend in need

When Smith told Diane Connor, her friend of 30 years, she needed a kidney, Conner didn’t have to think twice before she offered one of her kidneys.

Connor, also a Delano resident, understands firsthand the situation because her husband, Frank ‘Bud’ Conner, was diagnosed with kidney failure in 1996.

Because her blood type didn’t match, Connor was unable to help her husband, but a complete stranger came forward and offered Connor’s husband a kidney in 1998.

As a veteran, he was attending his first meeting at the Delano American Legion when Bernie Dryson of Delano, overheard Connor talking about needing a kidney. Dryson immediately offered to help.

“At first, my husband thought, ‘oh yeah right, how many beers have you had,’” Diane Connor laughed. “But Bernie was serious. What a great guy.”

The donated kidney enabled her 10 more years with her husband before he passed away from other health complications, and Connor knew she had to help Smith.

“I knew right away I’d do it,” Connor said. “I had to pay it forward and I wasn’t afraid. I told her, ‘hey, I have two kidneys – but I only need one.’”

In order to donate a kidney, one must be in good health and certain criteria must be met.

Connor met all of the criteria, but didn’t pass the very last kidney function test.

“She was trying to pay it forward to me because someone gave her husband a chance,” said Smith. “When she called to tell me she couldn’t give me a kidney, there were many tears. We thought this was the answer, but now are back to looking for a kidney.”

Living on dialysis

Three days each week, Smith spends afternoons getting dialysis. Though the process isn’t painful for her, she admits it has completely taken away her freedom of mobility.

“Dialysis is hard on your body,” she said. “Making plans or traveling is difficult, because you can’t stop the dialysis. You have to go whether you feel like it or not.”

Kidney disease has weakened her bones, and right now she has a fractured wrist resulting from a fall. Bruises cover her body because of blood thinners she has to take.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Smith goes through the process of having permanent tubes in her chest, (called a “pick”) hooked up to help clean her blood and do the job her kidneys have stopped doing.

“After a weekend, I get pretty tired,” she said. “And I joke that I need another oil change.”

Smith is on list of patients needing a kidney at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and the Mayo Clinic, though could be years before she ever gets a kidney, if in fact she gets one at all.

“I’m meant to be where I am today,” she said. “When it’s going to happen, it will. I just wish it’d be sooner.”

Waiting for a kidney

Smith’s blood type is A positive, and she is compatible with types A and O; however there’s a possibility other types could donate a kidney.

According to www.mayoclinic.com, a potential donor is given a thorough medical exam to determine whether they are a good match for the recipient.

Donors are given an advocate to help them through the process, and they are careful about who can donate an organ.

Though major surgery is involved, and there are risks, Smith has done a lot of research on the subject and wouldn’t ask someone to donate a kidney if she didn’t feel it was a safe procedure.

“The surgery is usually two laproscopic incisions, which makes healing faster,” she said. “The donor is in the hospital up to a few days, then recovers at home for a few weeks. You can live very well on one kidney – it doesn’t affect their quality of life.”

Smith’s insurance will cover all costs for a donor to go through the preliminary medical tests, the surgery, and hospital stay, and she is willing to help with lost wages during recovery time.

Will you donate?

Hopeful and positive are two words Smith is trying to live by right now, as she awaits a kidney.

While she is hoping maybe there is someone in the community who would be willing to come forward and help, she also wants to bring awareness to this situation.

“If I don’t get a kidney from someone who reads this,” she said, “I at least want people to know there are a lot of us out here.”

Connor still wishes she could have helped her dear friend.

“You may think, well, what if I need that kidney?” she said. “But don’t think that way. It’s a good thing Bernie Dryson didn’t think that way or I wouldn’t have had those years to spend with my husband.”

For more information on Smith and her search for a kidney, call her at (763) 972-1288.

For more information about kidney donation, visit www.mayoclinic.com.