Stacy and Kendall pose for a photo in mid-February, less than a month following the transplant donation. Both are doing well and Kendall’s new kidney is working great.
by J.O. Parker
Kendall Havran has been battling chronic kidney disease most of his life.
The 50-year-old ag salesman at Altorfer in Cedar Rapids, who lives at Lake Ponderosa with his wife, Laurie, has IgA Nephropathy. It is a chronic kidney disease that has attacked and is damaging the glomeruli, the tiny filtering units inside his kidneys, where the blood is cleaned. Doctors learned of the disease 31-years-ago when Kendall was 19.
But that all changed in January when Kendall received a new kidney and a new lease on life, all thanks to a friend, Stacy Helm.
“It has made a huge difference in my life,” Kendall said of the new kidney. “I have a lot more energy and I’m improving every day.”
It was about 10-years ago when Stacy, 51, and her husband, Doug, first met Kendall and Laurie at a birthday party for the 16-year-old daughter of friends at Lake Ponderosa.
A friendship developed and when the Helms, who live north of Montezuma, purchased a weekend getaway and summer home at the lake in 2013, they often got together with Kendall and Laurie, who own a lake home three doors to the south.
Kendall never said anything about the kidney disease until about three years ago. The two couples were attending a Montezuma tailgate at an Iowa Hawkeye football game when Stacy asked Kendall how was he doing.
“I’m starting to look for a kidney donor,” he told Stacy, as the two visited.
Surprised, Stacy said she had no idea.
“No one ever said anything about it,” Stacy said.
Curious to learn more, Stacy said she asked about the disease and about being a kidney donor.
“All it takes is a blood test,” Kendall said of finding a match.
At the time, Kendall was on the transplant list at Mayo Clinic. Stacy said she made several attempts to connect with the organ transplant department at the Mayo, but for some strange reason, it didn’t work out.
Just more than a year ago, Kendall was added to the transplant list at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
But then everything was put on hold. Kendall’s kidney function started showing improvement.
“It (a kidney transplant) wasn’t as urgent,” Kendall said of that time.
By May 2020, things turned for the worse. Kendall’s kidney function level was going down and finding a kidney donor was on the forefront of everyone’s minds.
That is when Stacy contacted the University of Iowa Organ Transplant Center to see if she would be a match to donate a kidney to Kendall.
The process included numerous tests and took several months.
“You just can’t donate a kidney,” Stacy said. “They (doctors) do all kinds of tests and evaluation of my body.”
Doctors checked her heart, her lungs and did both an EKG and CT scan. She also underwent physiological tests and lots of blood work.
“At first,” Stacy said, “I wasn’t a (donor) candidate. There were complications including two arteries going into my kidney and some scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine) issues.”
Doctors wanted to do more testing and talk with other specialists.
In November, Stacy said doctors told her she couldn’t be in the partner program because of the two arteries.
“They (doctors) wouldn’t want to give a complicated kidney to a recipient,” said Laurie.
But then a miracle happened. Doctors told Stacy that they could work around the scoliosis and do the transplant after all.
It just happened that Kendall and Stacy both are O+ blood types, the first thing that needed to happen to make the transplant possible.
“But then through all the testing, doctors discovered that I was also a tissue match as well,” said Stacy. “That’s a big deal. It made me a ‘perfect match’. What are the odds, I wondered?”
Sharing the good news
It would more than two weeks before Stacy shared the news with Kendall and Laurie.
On Dec. 16, Stacy and Doug invited Kendall and Laurie out for supper at Pirates of Ponderosa, an eatery at the lake.
While the couples waited to be served, Stacy handed Kendall a small jewelry box. Inside was a kidney bean in small bag with a bow. A note was attached. On the outside it said, “No matter the weather, we’re in this together.”
On the inside, Stacy wrote, “Kendall and Laurie,…This is a practice run to see how you will handle my kidney…I’m a match! Love ya, Stacy and Doug.”
“She totally floored both of us,” said Kendall. “I was flabbergasted, amazed and shocked.”
The next day, a transplant date of Jan 21, 2021 was set.
Kendall and Stacy both went into quarantine two weeks before surgery. They met with surgeons and doctors at the University of Iowa the day before the surgery.
Both couples stayed in a motel that evening and the next morning, Stacy and Kendall arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m.
Stacy was in surgery for two hours and Kendall was in surgery for five. They each had their own surgeon.
Everything went successfully.
On the mend
Both Kendall and Stacy are doing well and getting stronger every day.
Kendall’s new kidney is working great. He takes immunosuppressants, an anti-rejection medicine, each day. “I will be on that for the rest of my life,” he said.
Stacy is also doing well. She credits her late grandmother, Arlene Sanders, for giving her the inspiration to donate one of her kidneys to Kendall.
“I talked with my grandmother about Kendall before she passed away on June 20,” Stacy said. “She told me that she had a friend in Texas who went on dialysis and passed away from kidney disease. She told me she wished she could have done that (donated a kidney) for her friend.”
“I just felt like God was telling me to do this for Kendall,” Stacy said.
Laurie said the director at the University of Iowa Organ Transplant Center said that a donor and recipient will have a special bond for years.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Dr. Alan Reed, MD MBA, Professor and Chief, Transplant and HPB Surgery and Director of UI Organ Transplant Center, who has been doing transplants for 32 years.
“We help donor families make sense of an otherwise difficult situation by enabling their generosity through the amazing gift of organ donation. Over the years, I get letters and pictures from patients and their families thankful for the things they can do because of their transplants (weddings, births, grandchildren) and that is the reason we do what we do.”
“Stacy was a perfect match for Kendall,” Laurie said. “It’s really amazing they can do this. You never know when you meet someone what that relationship will evolve into.”
Stacy took a unique approach to telling Kendall she was a perfect match. She put a kidney bean in a small bag with a bow. A note was attached. On the outside it said, “No matter the weather, we’re in this together.”
On the inside of the note, Stacy wrote, “Kendall and Laurie,…This is a practice run to see how you will handle my kidney…I’m a match! Love ya, Stacy and Doug.”