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Rural health: Kidney transplant offers new lease on life

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 4:27pm

Dan Moore is making plans to get back in the driver's seat. It seems like an eternity since the day last October when he parked his combine in the shed. The 42-year-old Jerseyville, Illinois, farmer knew that it might be his last crop.

Kidney disease had forced him to sell his livestock a few years earlier. In 2006, he had cut back his operation to 430 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. His four-hour dialysis treatments required a 40-mile round-trip, three times a week.

"I wasn't able to make any long-range plans," he says.

A routine blood test when he was 28 years old detected polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder affecting 500,000 Americans. When he went on dialysis at age 38, Moore's name was added to a list to receive a deceased donor kidney.

But every day brought him closer to end-stage renal disease.

A year ago, Moore sought a second opinion at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was encouraged to consider a living donor transplant. Half of all living donor kidneys are functional for 25 years.

"Not everyone will be approved for a transplant," he says. "Some are too weak or have other conditions."

Three family members volunteered to donate. After two and a half days of testing and counseling, Mayo specialists determined his sister, Susan Ruyle, was a match. The transplant took place on October 17.

Following a three-hour surgery, Moore was hospitalized for five days. He stayed in Rochester another month for follow-up appointments.

Ruyle was out of the hospital in two and a half days and back to her teaching job in two and a half weeks.

"I went there the day before," Ruyle says. "My surgery lasted an hour, and I was done by noon. They had me walking by 6 p.m. that night. Laparoscopy involves only a small incision. It all went very smoothly."

According to the Mayo Clinic, the national one-year survival rate for transplant patients is 95%; the three-year rate is 90%.

In fact, the average life span of a patient on hemodialysis is significantly shorter and more prone to complications than that of a successful kidney transplant patient.

Even with the cost of long-term antirejection medicines, a transplant costs less than dialysis.

Health insurance is vital for both. Transplant coverage varies by provider and policy. Without it, Moore would have had to take Social Security disability. "Once I sold my machinery, I don't think I could ever have gone back to farming," he says.

Rejection is a major risk for recipients, who must maintain a healthy lifestyle. "I've learned a lot about what I can and can't do, and what to watch for," Moore says.

When he returned home, he went to his local doctor twice weekly for blood tests. After four months, his blood tests were cut to twice a month. He monitors his blood pressure and temperature daily.

When he works on machinery or in his gardens, he must wear gloves. "I always wear sunscreen," he says. "Antirejection drugs make you eight times more prone to skin cancer."

Ruyle's lifestyle is unchanged. "To be safe, I don't take certain pain relievers because they're absorbed by the kidneys," she says. "Dan and I've always been close. I was glad that I could help give him a normal life."

Moore is grateful for his sister's gift. "It's great to be able to get my life back again," he says."

Dan Moore is making plans to get back in the driver's seat. It seems like an eternity since the day last October when he parked his combine in the shed. The 42-year-old Jerseyville, Illinois, farmer knew that it might be his last crop.

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