A little kidney between friends
The optimist that she is, Joan Powell says she still didn't understand what it meant when her good friend Jenine Bentley told her her kidneys were shot and they wouldn't work anymore.
"I knew her kidneys had shut down a couple of times and that the second time it happened, the kidneys were done," she said. "I knew that she was going to have to do dialysis. But I still didn't get it as to how serious her situation was."
It was at a birthday luncheon the two and good friend Jana Abrams hold three times a year when Joan learned about the condition.
"She said she was on the transplant list at the University of Utah," said Joan. "It was then that her condition hit me like a ton of bricks."
Jenine, a diabetic since she was 29, was in trouble. Dialysis was the only option, but it wasn't something that would allow her to live out a normal life span, with a normal life. She needed a transplant kidney, and many people offered to give her one. But she worried about the long time ramifications for anyone donating.
"I was actually hoping for one from a cadaver," she said on Friday at home as she was recuperating from surgery. "I knew that a kidney from someone who died would not be as good as one from a live donor, but I didn't want anyone I knew to give one of theirs up for me."
Joan thought immediately about donating one to her very good friend.
"She fought me on it but I didn't listen," she said. "I got the paperwork and contemplated what I would do."
Joan's husband Gary was concerned too. He wasn't sure it was something she should do.
"I found out last year in March and it took me until August to submit the papers to apply to donate one," said Joan. "I guess my self-centeredness stepped in. I waited so it wouldn't mess up my ATV riding season."
That was just the beginning. Tests and many other factors had to tie into the donation. After the blood work and some tissue tests, Joan was almost a perfect match.
"The odds of them matching up are not very good," said Joan. "There were a few little things that didn't but they were not important. I was the first person tested and the one that could donate."
While most may think that the failing kidneys were a result of Janine's diabetes, Janine says it was only a contributing factor.
"I was bitten by a Brown Recluse (spider) in 1998," she said. "That is when all the trouble began."
Joan says while no one can exactly pinpoint when it happened or even if it happened all the signs of the wound that appeared on her big toe led all to guess that is what happened.
"I went through a lot with that," she said. "The doctors kept wanting to amputate my big toe, but I kept resisting it. I thought I was tough."
Joan saw what was happening.
"She would always say, 'It'll be okay' or maybe 'I'll get through this,'" said Joan. "And she would suck it up (she would say 'cowgirl-up) and face the matter head on and deal with it."
In retrospect Jenine says now she realizes she should have allowed them to do it. Instead she lived with it for years, and eventually she had to have surgeries. During one of those surgeries she contacted MRSA, a flesh eating disease. In the treatment she lost both her big toes and had to have the tendons in her toes cut.
"When I am walking around I am fine and no one can tell," she said. "Not long after the surgery I went line dancing and as I went to turn around I fell. I couldn't do it anymore.'
She also found she couldn't climb anything either.
What really got her kidneys was the huge amount of specialized antibiotics she was given during the MRSA days. That along with high blood pressure and diabetes her kidneys began to shrivel up.
Dialysis, while it keeps one alive, is not pleasant. She went to Castleview Hospital three days a week for three and a half hours a day for two years so she could continue to live and work.
Yes work. She works in the accounting department at Intermountain Electronics and she would go through dialysis in the morning and then go to work afterward.
"Most people don't work while they are having dialysis," said Joan. "But she did."
Joan and Jenine became friends 25 years ago as their girls played softball together. But then came high school rodeo and the amount of travel that must go on means people have to really get together. Joan and Janine became best friends through that.
"Janine and Jana would load up the horses and leave earlier than I could to go to the rodeos," said Joan. "When I got done with work I would drive the motorhome to where it was being held."
The season for high school rodeo actually runs most of the year with the exception of the winter months. And since it is not a school sport, but a club sport, parents had to do the transport of the kids. Everyone gets close.
Joan and her family began to prepare for the fact that she would be giving a kidney.
"We were at one meeting and the doctors asked my husband if he was in favor of it," said Joan. "He said "I'm not but it is her decision."
He told the doctor he just couldn't face losing her, which Joan said was the dearest thing he had ever said.
"He's not much of a romantic, but that really got to me," she said with tears in her eyes.
But as the two families began to meet people through meetings who had donated and those that had received, they realized this was something many have faced and have done successfully.
The community also stepped up big time. There is a great deal of money involved getting a transplant and there must be some hard cash up front before a transplant can take place. Jenine and her family were busy all summer long getting stuff ready for booths at local fairs and special events days in the local communities. When the benefit for her in August was held they had raised the necessary amount of money to get it done.
On March 5 Janine and Joan went in for surgery. Joan's kidney was removed, and placed in Janine's body.
Janine felt pretty good after the surgery; Joan was very sick for a few days.
"Despite how sick I was, I never regretted that I did it for a moment," she says now.
Later, following what doctors had told them both, Janine got very sick. But within a short time after the kidney was transplanted, it's function increased hourly until it was totally working. No more dialysis for Janine.
As of April 5, Joan doesn't have to go back for checkups any more. She is fine. Janine must give blood twice a week and go the University of Utah Medical Center for a once a week checkup.
She is feeling better every day.
"I like to tell her that a little piece of me lives at her house every day," said Joan her eyes filled with tears looking at Janine who was in the same condition.
So what is a little kidney between friends?