By Kent Bressler, AAKP Board of Director, Ambassador
April is National Donate Life month and marks my 33rd kidney anniversary! Retiring two years ago, after a 40-year career in nursing and health management, has been very restorative and, more recently, “sheltering in” has allowed ample time to reflect on my many blessings.
Having a chronic progressive kidney disease, Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), has been challenging as it is for all of us who kidney disease. Yes, I went through some very rough times early on in the journey but have come out very nicely, thank you kindly. My story is very simple but as I look back getting to my 70th decade has not been easy, and it has taken lots of work to get where I am.
The Bressler brothers, Kent, Kip and Kerry
No one on either side of my family had kidney disease. My FSGS came early in 1970 when protein was detected in my urine. Progression of the FSGS was slow but persistent with ever increasing fatigue and frequent spikes in blood pressure. In 1984 after diagnosis by biopsy, I underwent the standard steroid bombardment and the endless search for the right combination of medications to control my blood pressure. My nephrologist, Dr. Paraic Mulgrew guided me through roughly three years of care but nothing seemed to stop the course of the disease. This is where donate life appears. On April 30, 1987, my brother Kip gave me one of his kidneys and for that I am eternally grateful.
Kip never hesitated; he was all in from the beginning. My youngest brother, Kerry, also wanted to donate and just knew he was going to be the one. My brothers met me in San Antonio for testing and I remember Kip telling Kerry, “I am going to be doing this Kerry, you have two young children and so don’t worry I will be doing it.” Kip tested out as the best candidate to donate and that solved that issue. If you want to know the truth, I was so sick at that time I didn’t care. My creatinine was 17. I was profoundly anemic, and frankly, I felt that I was going to die. I did not want to go on dialysis and my brother Kip thankfully kept that from happening.
Being a donor is honorable business, but it is not without risk of complication, although most of those issues are easily remedied. Giving a kidney saves a life even with its dangers. Donors give NOT because they have to but rather are compelled to by their faith/religion or a belief that it what they “should” do it is the “right” thing to do. Kip gave out of love and the belief that if he didn’t, then I would probably die.
In 1987, living donor kidneys where surgically removed via a large incision, and in Kip’s case, they removed one and a half ribs so they could safely take the kidney out. The incision later became mildly infected and was treated without difficulty. Today, less invasive laparoscopic procedures make it easier on the donor. I remember going to Kip’s room on post op day two. He still had all of his tubes and was in pain. He looked at me and said with a grin and a wink, “what the hell did you get me into?” He was kidding of course but giving a kidney back then was much more painful and difficult than it is today. Thank God that progress has been made!
Reflecting over the past 30 plus years I often wonder what it would have been like without having the transplant. No one can predict the outcome but I can tell you that having it made life “possible”. Preemptive transplant was right for me and to this day I believe that if kidney disease is caught early enough everyone can be afforded the opportunity to undergo transplant rather than dialysis. Preemptive transplant happens with early diagnosis. The search for a living donor must begin as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed. The search begins with the nephrologists; they hold the key. The mantra is “it is time to prepare for transplant rather than prepare for dialysis.” It is the patients right to make their own choice after consultation their nephrologist. Patient choice is the driver of optimum care with optimum results.
My transplant journey garnered my wife and I 30 plus years to focus on life. To raise our two girls and see our four grandchildren grow has just been the icing on the cake. Cathy my wife of 50 years has been the guiding light for me. Always there in the hard times and always understanding and loving. I can’t begin to thank all of the people who have helped me make this journey. Rest assured I am grateful.
To all of those living donors and all of the families that have given permission for their loved one’s organs to be donated “God Bless You.”
Kent and Kip
Kent and Cathy at AAKP's 2019 National Patient Meeting in Washington, D.C