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Living Kidney Donor Describes Amazing Care

Throughout their 27-year marriage, Bruce and Pam Schmitt have been physically active and careful about their diet. Even so, in his late 50s, Bruce was diagnosed with high blood pressure that runs in his family. He took medication to keep it under control.

It was after Bruce had a routine blood check that this couple’s life changed significantly.

Unexpected

Bruce learned that he had a low GFR (an overall index of kidney function) as well as other indicators pointing to the early stages of chronic kidney failure. Much to the Schmitt’s surprise, a nephrologist confirmed that diagnosis.

As time passed, Bruce’s kidneys worsened to the point that he would need kidney dialysis in 2019. Because he was close to retirement, he retired early and started the training to do peritoneal dialysis at home during the night. He hoped this would free his days to do the things he enjoyed during his retirement.

The self-administered dialysis kept his kidneys stable, but Bruce had difficulty sleeping and was fatigued during the day. “It was difficult to see him not be able to do all the things he enjoys,” said Pam.

“The List”

To be covered by his insurance at the time, Bruce needed to seek care on the other side of the state, far from their home in Greenville. The medical team at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak determined Bruce was qualified to be on the kidney transplant list in the fall of 2019.

Some family members offered to be tested to see if they could donate their kidneys to Bruce, but they were not compatible. Bruce would have to wait for another living donor or a deceased donor.

On average, there are more than 2,000 individuals on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the state of Michigan. In general, the average time frame for waiting in Michigan can be five to seven years.

Being placed on the list does not guarantee a donor. To have any chance at a normal life, Bruce needed to identify a living donor, and fast.

Pam’s Gift

“After a lot of soul searching, I began the process to see if I could be a donor,” Pam remembered. “I was a little reluctant because I didn’t want our two daughters to have to take care of both of us at the same time. But I decided I needed to step up, and our daughters reassured us that they would be there for us in the hospital and to help with transportation to appointments afterwards. Our youngest daughter even offered to prepare meals for us to freeze and eat as needed and to stay with us a few days until I had recovered enough to help Bruce with the care at home he would need.

When Bruce’s insurance changed in January 2020, the Schmitts transferred his care to Mercy Health.

“I had already pretty much gone through all of the testing and had passed everything at Beaumont,” Pam remembered. “I was relieved and in awe that Bruce and I were a match. I thought there needed to be some type of biological connection. I didn’t even know that we had the same blood type much less important markers for a successful transplant.”

Then COVID hit …

…and everything was put on hold. Pam prepared for the transplant anyway.

“In order to be a donor, you have to be a pretty healthy person to begin with. I don’t have a taste for salt and am comfortable with a low-sodium diet because my mom never used it. I have always been very active, and enjoy pilates, strength training, and power walking even today. I wanted to be as strong as I could be mentally and physically so I could recover quickly and be there to help Bruce recover.”

By June 2020, Mercy Health was in touch with the Schmitts again, and the transplant was scheduled for August.

“Amazing” Mercy Health Kidney Transplant Team

“I can’t say enough good things about the entire transplant team, from the nutritionist and social worker to the surgeon and nurses. The compassionate care we received through the whole process both pre- and post-surgery has been phenomenal…amazing. I felt like everything was covered, and I always had a person I could turn to if I had any questions. Everyone was extremely thorough and explained the full ramifications of what I was volunteering to do and how it would affect me both before and after,” said Pam.

Another part of the team is the living donor advocate, a person whose role it is to ensure that all of the donor’s best interests are being looked out for during the entire process. “Mercy Health looks out for you. I was impressed that they actually had somebody assigned to the donor. They want to make sure that you get what you need to get back to a normal life too,” said Pam.

Renewed Life Together

Bruce, 62, is now back to doing the things he loves, such as farming, gardening, hunting, hiking, and golfing.

Following her short recovery, Pam was invited to become a volunteer mentor to potential donors, and she has already spoken with one woman who is considering donating her kidney to her husband. The potential donor was so grateful to talk to someone who had been through the entire process — someone who could address her concerns and answer questions.

“Deep down inside I am so excited about this process that I want to tell my story to help other people understand how rewarding and important it is. I went through a small amount of pain as a donor compared to what the recipient goes through. It didn’t change my life that much; it changed my husband’s life and our life together. I want to spread the word and help make a difference.”

Pam tells anyone considering a kidney donation that the best thing they can do for themselves is to get physically healthy and strong and be mentally prepared — go into it with a positive attitude.

“I feel so fortunate that I was able to donate my kidney to my husband. If I had the opportunity to revisit my decision and donate again, I would not hesitate at all.”

Since 1973, Mercy Health has become one of the largest and most successful community hospital-based kidney transplant programs in the country. Today, our innovative donor options offer more hope to our patients. Learn more about our kidney transplant center.

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