Fernaus look for special gift
While many people in the New Underwood community are anticipating gifts from loved ones this Christmas, perhaps no one is looking more eagerly for a special gift than Dennis and Janet Fernau.
Diagnosed with kidney failure seven years ago, Dennis has thus far been able to stave off dialysis. His time of avoiding this drastic measure is drawing to a close, though, and the Fernau family is praying for a kidney donation miracle before Dennis’ kidneys finally do shut down, thereby necessitating dialysis.
During a normal checkup roughly nine years ago, Dennis was alerted that his creatinine level was high. As metabolism takes place in the body’s muscles, creatinine, a chemical waste product, is produced. The kidneys are designed to then filter this waste product out of the bloodstream and eliminate it from the body. Unusually high creatinine levels in the blood indicated kidney failure.
At the time that Dennis’ tests originally indicated high creatinine levels, the doctor thought the best measure would be to monitor the levels. When future blood tests showed that the creatinine levels were rising instead of falling, Dennis was referred to a nephrologist, a doctor who specializes in kidney function. Kidney failure is usually a secondary result of a primary problem. In Dennis’ case, the problem was high blood pressure. The initial focus, then, was to bring down the high blood pressure in order to ensure that the kidneys would begin to work more efficiently.
When it became apparent that kidney failure was imminent, Dennis’ nephrologist encouraged Dennis and Janet to tour a dialysis clinic in order to become more familiar with the dialysis procedure, as well as to get on an organ recipient list in order to receive a new kidney, thereby eliminating the need for dialysis.
Dialysis is a procedure, occurring four days a week for four to four and one-half hours for each patient, in which a machine serves the function of the kidneys. During a single session of dialysis, all of a person’s blood is pumped from the body, sent through a filter to eliminate waste products, then delivered back into the body. This cycle occurs four times per session.
When Dennis was first diagnosed with kidney failure, his doctor predicted that he would be on dialysis within the year. However, through vigilant doctoring and the implementation of a special diet, Dennis has been able to avoid dialysis for the past seven years.
That time is drawing to a close, though, and Dennis and Janet, along with their family, are now praying for a kidney donation to enable Dennis’ body to function on its own without dialysis.
When many people think of organ donation, they think of a deceased donor – that is, a person who is hospitalized and whose brain is no longer functioning. A deceased donor has usually succumbed to a stroke or accident and had previously chosen to be an organ donor. In this case, the deceased donor’s organs, including heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and other organs, may be donated to multiple recipients. According to the Sanford Health Transplant Center, these organs are assigned to recipients based on a national point system, which takes into consideration the wait time of the recipient and the viability of the transplant, among other things.
However, another growing source of organ donations is from live donors, people who chose to donate organs while they are still living. In the case of a kidney donation, a person can healthily live with one kidney, so it is possible for a donor to share a kidney with a donor recipient without suffering negative health effects from the loss of the kidney.
There are three kinds of living donors who could provide a kidney for Dennis. These include related, unrelated and anonymous donors. Related donors include a parent, child, sibling, aunt, uncle or cousin of the donor recipient. Because of familial traits, this kind of donation can offer the best chance at a viable match.
Unrelated donors include a spouse, the spouse’s family members, friends, acquaintances and co-workers. An anonymous donor is someone who does not know the recipient but who desires to help a person in need through the donation of an organ. In this case, the donor would agree to donate to someone on the transplant clinic’s wait list, and the organ would go to the best match in a manner similar to the use of a deceased donor’s organs.
Receiving a transplant from a living donor has many advantages over a donation from a deceased donor. A living donor organ donation offers better results to the recipient, allows for a much shorter wait time and allows the transplant to take place at the best time physically and emotionally for both the donor and the recipient.
In September of this year, Janet issued a call for help to the Fernaus’ friends and family via Facebook, a social media venue. In her post, Janet asked their numerous friends and family to consider testing their own possibility of being the donor Dennis needs.
Dennis, who is a New Underwood native, has spent most of his life investing in the lives of others around him. An education professional, Dennis taught for four years in Newell and Isabel before earning his master’s degree in administration. He then served as the principal in McIntosh for nine years, Faith for 23 years, and New Underwood for four years before finally retiring with 39 total years of teaching and administration. During that time, he touched countless lives, and it is now the Fernaus’ hope that one of the many people they have touched would provide the donor match that Dennis needs.
The first step for a potential donor to take is to contact Charish Weeldreyer, the Sanford Transplant Center Clinical Transplant Coordinator. Weeldreyer will conduct a brief interview with the potential donor to ascertain physical health qualifications and a willingness to complete the steps necessary to determine if a person has the proper match for the kidney Dennis needs.
Following this interview, the potential donor will receive a packet of information and directions concerning the next steps to take. These steps include a general health check-up as well as a dental and eye exam. These initial checks are considered necessary for good overall health, and must be supplied by the potential donor via that person’s own medical insurance. If a match is made, Dennis’ insurance will cover the costs of the transplant for both Dennis and the donor.
After the potential donor’s general health has been established, several factors must be considered before a match is made. Blood types must be matched in order to check for compatibility. Proteins in the blood and various genetic markers must also be taken into account in order to ensure a viable match.
Once a match has been made, the Sanford transplant team assigned to Dennis’ case, including a social worker, surgeon, dietician, pharmacist and nurse, will set a time for the organ transplant, taking into account the best time for both the donor and Dennis. This team is dedicated to the success of the procedure for the Dennis and the donor. Toward that end, the social worker will help with full support for the donor, including helping to ensure time off of work for the procedure and the recovery, childcare, transportation, lodging and meals.
Because of the many factors that influence the viability of a match, it is possible that none of Dennis’ potential donors will perfectly match him. In this case, there is a paired exchanged donation option. In this case, one of Dennis’ donors who does not pair well with him, but who matches another person waiting for a donated kidney, will provide a kidney for the other recipient. A donor from the other recipient’s list, who does not match that recipient but who does match Dennis, will donate a kidney to Dennis. In this way, two non-compatible matches are turned into two successful matches.
One of the Fernaus’ former students is currently on this paired exchange donation list. While she does not match Dennis and can therefore not be his donor, she is willing to donate to another recipient in order for Dennis to receive a kidney from the other recipient’s donor list. “I can’t give to Mr. Fernau, but I can give to someone else, and that is giving to him,” the former student told Janet.
Although, to the Fernau’s knowledge, the Fernaus’ daughters and several friends including former students have started the process to check for compatibility as donors, the Fernaus hope for more people to come alongside them and to also consider donating a kidney to help Dennis.
Anyone interested in becoming a possible donor for Dennis should contact Charish Weeldreyer, RN, at (605) 328-9290 or (800) 949-0670.