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published July 2013

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Herald Journal Publishing
PO Box 129
Winsted, MN 55395
(320) 485-2535

Loving niece gives aunt new life through kidney donation

By Jennifer Kotila, Staff Writer

When it was determined that Linda Teske of Cokato would need a kidney transplant, her niece, Becky Kenning of Hutchinson offered hers without being asked.

“Mom let me know she needed a kidney, and I asked, ‘What number do I need to call?’” Kenning said. “[Linda’s] always been there for me and I wanted to help make her feel better.”

Kenning donated a kidney to Teske Nov. 15, 2012 – giving Teske a new lease on life.

“I still get overwhelmed when I sit like this and think about it,” Teske said. “Everything happened so quickly, I almost didn’t have time to process it.”

Health issues turn into health emergency

“I never had any idea my kidneys were failing,” Teske said about learning she had stage 4 chronic kidney disease (CKD) while wintering in Arizona during 2010-11.

For years, she had low potassium, which made her feel ill, but doctors hadn’t checked her kidney function.

Teske had gone to urgent care the day she was diagnosed because she was feeling really run-down and tired, and also thought she had a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Doctors confirmed she had a UTI, but also immediately sent her to the emergency room because her kidneys were not functioning properly.

Tests confirmed Teske had stage 4 CKD – her kidneys were in bad shape, she said.

Although nothing could be done to reverse the damage already done, a strict diet and medications would help maintain Teske’s remaining kidney function.

For a time, the diet worked. Teske’s numbers were good, and she wasn’t feeling any worse.

But about a year later, while at a check-up with her nephrologist (a kidney specialist) in Arizona, Teske was told her CKD had reached stage 5 – she needed to start dialysis.

At the time, she was ready to travel back to Minnesota, so an appointment was made with a nephrologist in St. Cloud, who helped set up dialysis in Litchfield.

After being referred to the University of Minnesota, it was determined Teske was a candidate for a transplant, and was put on a waiting list.

Finding a donor

Although Teske was on a waiting list for a donor kidney, it can take years for someone to reach the top of the list.

In the meantime, Teske was on dialysis – which meant going to Litchfield twice each week and sitting in a recliner for several hours hooked up to a machine functioning as her kidneys.

“The staff made it an OK experience,” Teske said.

Following a dialysis session, Teske was tired and worn out, but then felt good for a day or two. As toxins built up in Teske’s body between dialysis sessions, she would feel very ill.

“I didn’t know how vital the kidney was and all the work it does for the other organs in the body,” Teske said.

The nice thing about needing a kidney is that family members can step up and be tested to determine if they are a match.

Kenning admitted it was an instant decision, and maybe a little impulsive, when she decided to be tested to determine if she was a match for Teske.

“I knew what it is like not to feel well,” she said. She has suffered from chronic shoulder pain since suffering a minor ski injury in 2005. “If someone could help with that, I would want that, too,” she said.

“We’re a close-knit family and have always been there for each other – in good times and in bad,” Kenning noted.

All three of Teske’s sons – Brock, Justin, and Beau – also stepped up to begin testing.

Testing showed everyone was a blood and tissue match for Teske, but Kenning was the first to receive a full health evaluation showing she was perfectly healthy and a good kidney donor for Teske.

Part of the evaluation process includes meeting with a counselor, whose job is to make sure the donor is doing what the donor choses, and is not being forced by family, Kenning said.

She was told by the counselor that if she had changed her mind, her family would simply be told she was not a match – but Kenning wanted nothing to do with that. She was sure about her decision.

Kenning’s husband, Danny, and daughter, Blair Hendricks, questioned if this was something she really wanted to do, but backed her in the decision to donate a kidney.

Her only apprehension about donating a kidney to her aunt was whether or not she would be able to ski, since she is a member of the Powder Ridge ski patrol and was also planning a skiing trip to Colorado.

Kenning was told she would not be able to ski for three months, which meant she would miss out on ski patrol, but would still be able to ski during her Colorado trip.

Teske’s sons did not take the full health evaluation since Kenning was a good match – although they wanted to help their mother, also. However, once a match is found, others are not evaluated due to the cost of the evaluation involved.

From the time Teske found out she would need a kidney transplant, to the day of the surgery, everything went very quickly, Kenning said.

“It went very quickly considering how thorough all those evaluations are,” Teske said. “Then, I was surprised that when we had a donor, and I was already on dialysis, they would do the surgery Nov. 15 – I thought it would be longer than that.”

She noted feeling guilty each time she went to dialysis after she knew how soon the transplant would take place.

“So many people wait years and years for a match while on the waiting list,” she said. “In the meantime, going to dialysis, it becomes your life.”

Kenning noted it didn’t hit her that the transplant was really happening until she was at her pre-operation appointment – possibly because of what she and Teske were told by the surgeon.

“He looked at me and told me, ‘When this is over, you will feel much, much better,’” Teske said. “Then he looked at Becky and said, ‘But you will feel worse after surgery.’”

Teske would finally have a working kidney again – and it would immediately begin making her feel better.

However, Kenning, who was perfectly healthy, would have to recover from major surgery in which an organ was removed.

When prepping for surgery, Teske and Kenning were in the same room with a curtain separating their beds, and the family prayed together.

As Kenning was being wheeled out of the room for surgery, she said, “Linda, you take care of my kidney.”

After the transplant

Teske recovered quickly from the surgery – and was able to go to Arizona Jan. 1. She will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life.

Kenning had some complications following surgery, and some pain during her ski trip, but has since fully recovered – feeling completely healthy except for her pre-existing shoulder pain.

As she was recovering, Kenning’s daughter, who is a licensed practical nurse, helped her a lot. She is now pregnant with Kenning’s third grandchild.

“I love being a grandma,” Kenning said.

During a family gathering just before Christmas, Teske’s husband, Tom, walked into the house first and said, “I need to introduce you to a new women – Lindy. She’s still Linda, but she is also part of Becky, now.”

“I am just so very happy that Linda is feeling so good,” Kenning said.

When asked what she would tell others considering becoming an organ donor for a family member, Kenning said, “If you love the person and want them to get better, and you feel strong – go for it.”

“I would just hope that if people have the opportunity (to donate an organ), they do it,” Teske said.

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