Third grade teacher Jodi Schmidt and second-grader Natasha Fuller are back at school after Schmidt donated her kidney to Fuller over the summer. (Photo: MedStar Georgetown University Hospital) This time of year is about giving and receiving.
For Mike Gerald, his best Christmas present didn’t come with a bow or wrapped in a holiday bag. It came in an operating room in Washington D.C.
It is the gift of a better life.
The Chesterfield Township man is recovering from his fourth kidney transplant in nearly 40 years, a “pretty rare” feat, said Dr. Matthew Cooper, one of the doctors who performed the more uncommon and more complicated surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in October.
About 115,000 men, women and children are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants, with a person added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes, according to Donate Life America. The group states that 82 percent of patients waiting are in need of a kidney.
In Michigan, more than 3,000 people are on the waiting list, according to Gift of Life Michigan. On average, it states, 17 Michigan residents have organ transplants every week.
“It’s such a blessing,” said Gerald, along with his wife, LeAnne, who has been by his side and was trained to give her husband dialysis at home.
“We are so lucky.” Don’t give up
The 65-year-old retiree’s luck came after some heartbreak.
Gerald said he, his mother, uncle and cousin have glomerulonephritis or Bright’s disease, which is a group of diseases that injure the part of the kidney that filters blood, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
When the kidney is injured, according to the foundation, it cannot get rid of wastes and extra fluid in the body. If the illness continues, the kidneys may stop working, resulting in kidney failure, according to the group’s website.
Gerald said his mother died when she was 80, but had been on dialysis for about eight years. His uncle died when he was in his 50s and his cousin died at 22 years old.
Gerald said he started having problems when he was 17. He had to go on dialysis, then received his first transplant at a hospital in Detroit in 1981.
Cooper, director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, said that transplant failed quickly and the second one, a year later, never provided Gerald function.
Gerald received a third transplant in 1991 at the University of Michigan. That one worked for more than two decades, but was starting to approach failure a few years ago. All three of his kidneys had been from deceased donors.
Gerald said a live donor from Royal Oak was lined up to donate a kidney, and he was cleared to have a fourth surgery at U-M. But it was cancelled shortly after the Geralds said they got the call, went to Ann Arbor and were admitted for the procedure.
“We were all devastated and were all lost,” LeAnne Gerald said, adding the couple never got a clear answer on why the surgery didn’t proceed except that Mike Gerald’s case was complicated.
So she started sending out his medical records to programs that could possibly perform the surgery. Some didn’t respond, others – including a few in metro Detroit – said no, the couple said. Mike Gerald said one program took a year to get back with them.
LeAnne Gerald said she learned to “shop around, don’t put your eggs in one basket and don’t give up.”
And they didn’t.
The Geralds then learned doctors at the the 13th hospital – MedStar Georgetown University Hospital – thought they could perform the procedure.
“We told him – this is gonna be difficult, I think we can do it,” Cooper said. Dr. Matthew Cooper, director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute in Washington, D.C. He was one of the doctors who performed Michael Gerald’s fourth kidney transplant in October. (Photo: MedStar Georgetown University Hospital) He said there is a need for organ transplants, but not enough donors. Because of the length of time a kidney transplant usually works — ranging from 14 to 19 years depending on whether the donor is alive or deceased — people may need a second or third transplant in their lives.
A fourth one, he said, is pretty rare from a couple of standpoints — the immune system standpoint (the person has been exposed to three different donors) and the surgical standpoint — anatomically finding a place in the person’s body to put in another kidney.
Cooper said the other kidneys remain in the body, but get smaller and smaller as they stop working.
He said in Gerald’s case, other programs were uncomfortable with one of those issues or didn’t feel comfortable taking on his case because of the complexity of his medical history or not having enough experience. He said transplant programs are under high regulatory scrutiny. A donor steps up
Cooper said he first saw Gerald in 2017, and this year Gerald went on dialysis.
In July, a different live donor unexpectedly came forward, saying he would be willing to donate one of his kidneys to Gerald — the couple’s future nephew, 29-year-old Michigan State Police Trooper Ben Stadler, who never had undergone surgery before.
Stadler said he knew Gerald was on dialysis, but didn’t realize what it really entailed until he was on a family vacation with them during the summer.
The Geralds shipped the dialysis equipment to the cabin, where Stadler said he watched Gerald tethered to the equipment with LeAnne Gerald handling the IV and other medical needs.
The eight-hour process occurred five days a week.
“I saw Mike on dialysis in that cabin. They are fantastic people,” Stadler said. “This was a chance to help someone.”
He did some research and talked with his fiancee. Then, he called the Geralds and asked them what he needed to do to see if he was a match.
“For somebody to step up like that,” Mike Gerald said.
“I’m blown away,” his wife chimed in.
“It blows me away,” Gerald said.
“We didn’t ask,” his wife quickly said.
“He’s not even married to my niece yet,” Gerald said.
“He just stepped up,” LeAnne Gerald added.Cooper said having a live donor willing to donate his kidney helped Mike Gerald shave about a six-year wait for a deceased donor for a transplant.He said Gerald is doing well, with almost immediate return of his kidney function after the transplant.”When it kicks in, it’s like your body’s rejuvenating, kicking the poisons out,” Gerald said of how he felt.Cooper said: “his life will be so much better, and he’ll live so much longer than on dialysis.” He said if Gerald takes care of his health and diet, this kidney could last 15 years or so.Stadler, too, should live a normal, healthy life, Cooper said.For Stadler, his surgery came with pain, three scars on his stomach and restrictions during the several-weeks-long recovery process. He returned to full duty at work Wednesday, saying “if pain was the only reason I didn’t do this, it’s a horrible excuse.”Stadler said he knew the risks — infection and even a slim chance of him dying during the surgery. And he was even willing to donate his kidney to another patient, should something have happened to Gerald during surgery.Stadler said he has “no regrets at all.” And if anything happens in the future regarding his kidney, he said he’ll be at the top of the list because he was a previous donor.Gerald said he recently told Cooper thank you during a visit. But Cooper said he’s not the right person to thank — his donor is.”We thank him every day,” Gerald said of Stadler. “It’s a wonderful present.” Read more: Contact Christina Hall: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter. How – and why – to consider donating organs, eyes or tissues: About 683,000 transplants have occurred since 1988, according to Donate Life America, with 33,600 transplants bringing new life to people in 2016. But, 8,000 people die every year in the U.S. because organs are not donated in time.By donating organs, people can save up to eight lives, with tissue donors improving life for up to 75 sick, injured or blind people, according to Gift of Life Michigan.Becoming a donor takes less than one minute. You can register online at https://www.donatelife.net/register/ or https://services2.sos.state.mi.us/OrganDonor/Pages/Registry.aspx.You can become a donor when you register with the Michigan Secretary of State when you renew or get your first driver’s license or state identification card. The vast majority of donor registrations in the U.S. come through departments of motor vehicles and driver’s license partner transactions, according to Donate Life America.
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