Organ donors save lives

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Organ donors save lives, as in the case of Michael Henry, who donated a kidney to his father, Bob.

Hillsville resident and businessman Bob Henry saw the quality of life deteriorate as his health declined, starting with a bout of cancer that affected his kidney.

In 2005, he had half the kidney removed, which took care of the cancer problem. But after that, Henry’s kidney functions diminished.

That led to dialysis, and he underwent surgery on his arm to prepare him for receiving the treatments. A lump over his elbow still looks purple.

Once the site was ready, doctors at the kidney center in Galax put him on dialysis three times a week.

Doctors noticed that the dialysis went well and Henry’s lab tests looked good.

“I was doing so good the kidney doctor recommended me for a workup for a kidney transplant to see if I could qualify,” Henry said.

Seeking information, Henry went to the University of Virginia Transplant Center’s outreach office in Roanoke.

His options were explained — wait on a list for a kidney from an organ donor or find a willing, suitable live donor.

It could have taken 15 years to receive a kidney from the list, so Henry’s wife Pat told their five children about the situation.

Their son Michael volunteered.

(Henry wasn’t even going to tell their children. He said he didn’t want to burden them.)

“A lot of people don’t realize, like I didn’t, that you can live with one kidney,” the elder Henry said.

So Henry started testing for a transplant in 2008, involving 10 or 12 different procedures.

What happened next — doctors finding three blockages in Henry’s arteries during stress tests at Radford — delayed the transplant for some months.

The necessary open-heart surgery went fine, and in March it was time for Henry’s transplant.

On the 19th, surgeons operated on both Henry and his son.

It was a Thursday, Henry remembers, and both men were released within days. Henry said he got out on Sunday.

“By the time they moved me into a room, there was no pain.”

He used the “pain button” only once as a preventative measure before he got up. He didn’t have to use it at all after that.

The pain wasn’t anything like he’d experienced from the heart surgery, for example.

The prognosis for was good. “The doctor said it was the best kidney he’d every seen — it worked immediately.”

Usually, there’s a down time of a couple days when dialysis is required, but not in Henry’s case.

“Everything was fine — I was walking all over the hospital. I was back to work in two weeks and I was driving in two weeks.”

Henry needs blood work once a month for the rest of his life and takes five medications, but a transplant was definitely the better option than dialysis for the rest of his life.

For one, Medicare paid for the surgery, including for the son’s organ donation.

“It was cheaper for Medicare to pay for it than to pay for dialysis,” Henry explained.

Dialysis cost $2,000 a week and $96,000 a year. The operation cost not quite $90,000.

“I was surprised they’d pay for it,” he said. “Thank God for insurance.”

His son went back to work in six weeks. Donors can live a normal life with only one kidney.

Henry watches what he does, as a transplant patient. He needs to wash his hands constantly to avoid germs, wear a hat and use sunscreen. He takes extra precautions when eating raw food.

As a result of his experience, Henry sees a need for a program to spread information about organ transplants here, to make people aware they can make organ donations. Kind of like the bloodmobile, he says.

From his perspective, Henry also says that hospitals need to offer dialysis at their facilities.

Henry encourages people to find out more about organ donation and transplants and how it could save a loved one.

More information is available from the University of Virginia Transplant Center at 800 543-8814.

“That’s a good place,” Henry said. “It really is.”

Henry is also willing to talk directly about his experience. He can be reached at Stagecoach Station at (2760 728-5241 or at 733-4400.