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Age no obstacle for organ donor

Tamara Miller
Special to the DailyEdwards resident Emily Abbett-Wald poses for a picture with her stepfather, Bill Haywa, in a Minneapolis hospital soon after she donated a kidney to him.
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EDWARDS – Emily Abbett-Wald gave up her kidney and in return got a new outlook on life. The 30-year-old Edwards woman donated one of her kidneys to her 78-year-old stepfather, Bill Haywa, just a few weeks ago. But she made the decision to help her step-father two years earlier, when hypertension and heart problems caused his kidneys to fail.In that time, Abbett-Wald has given up smoking, lost some weight and has become a vegetarian. She’s changed in other ways, too. It’s more apparent to her now how undervalued the elderly are in this country, she said. Some people didn’t understand her decision to donate a kidney to someone who had already exceeded the average life expectancy for a American male. She’d like people to see it from her point-of-view.”I just sort of felt like he was written off a little bit because of his age, that he’s not going to live that much longer anyway,” she said. “I was willing to give him a kidney because I wanted him to have a better quality of life versus quantity (of life). Chances are he won’t live for 10 more years. I just wanted to improve his quality of life while he was living.”A “degenerating process”

Haywa never smoked, never drank too much and had lead a fairly health life as a doctor, Abbett-Wald said. Genetics are the primary cause of his hypertension and heart problems, which began to crop up when he was in his 40s. Those chronic health problems eventually caused kidney failure about two years ago. He began receiving dialysis to clean out his blood because his kidneys no longer could.In a letter Abbett-Wald wrote about her experience as an organ donor, she describes the impact dialysis had on her stepdad and how it affected her decision to become an organ donor.”You spend four hours, three times a week, hooked up to a machine that does a barely adequate job of cleaning out your blood. You can’t travel to places that don’t have dialysis units, including the mountain. You can’t urinate. You can’t eat – no wait, maybe it would be easier to tell you what you could eat… barely anything,” she wrote.Haywa was an active person who enjoyed traveling before he went on dialysis, Abbett-Wald said. He lives in Minneapolis and spends winters in Mexico. But when he came to Abbett-Wald’s wedding – he and her biological father walked her down the aisle – he had to spend the day before in Denver receiving dialysis because there was no facility locally where he could receive his treatment. Watching her stepfather’s quality of life decline prompted her to consider donating her kidney, she said. Doctors said he would be a good candidate for a new organ. The fact that she ended up being a good match was luck of the draw, however. Abbett-Wald’s blood type is O-positive, the type that is considered a “universal donor” because it can be given to patients of any blood type. Doctors also had to see how well her body tissue would match her stepdad’s. Six is the perfect match. “I ended up matching three out of six on the tissue typing with my stepfather. This is actually what the doctors would expect from a biological daughter,” Abbett-Wald wrote in her letter.

Becoming a donorShe was selected to be her stepdad’s donor, but it would take almost two years to make it happen. Twice the surgery was canceled because Haywa was having health problems that would make the operation dangerous. Several people had discouraged her from going through with the surgery because of her stepdad’s age. That surprised her, she said. “I didn’t really think of his age so much, just his health,” she said. Even if her stepdad lived only two years after the transplant – considered the worst-case scenario – it would be worth it if he enjoyed that time, she said. Other people believed donating a kidney would be dangerous. “Even though you tell them what you know about the safety of a kidney donation people are still sort of spooked by it,” she said. “A lot of people said, ‘I just couldn’t imagine parting with an organ.'”

Some people told her she’d have problems with pregnancy later in life. Others worried she couldn’t live a normal life with just one kidney, she said. Both aren’t true, she said. “Kidney donors lead normal lives and normal life spans,” she wrote in her letter. “The only risk of being a donor is that you need to avoid high-contact sports or professions such as police work due to the possibility of getting hit or shot in your kidney. Well, I never played football or hockey and my future dreams never included being a police officer, so this was not a problem for me.”She was scared at times, though, and discussed her fears with staff at the transplant center in Minneapolis, where the surgery was going to take place. Despite the two cancellations, she was determined to be a donor.”I felt like if my stepdad wasn’t able to do it, I was going to do it anyway,” Abbett-Wald said. “I felt like I was going to do it for somebody at that point.” A giftAbbett-Wald underwent surgery to give her stepdad a kidney on April 27. The operation lasted about three hours. Doctors were able to remove her kidney through laproscopic surgery, leaving her with two incisions on her lower abdomen: a small (about 1 inch) incision and one 5-inch incision, through which the kidney was removed. For a while after the surgery, Abbett-Wald felt a little tired: “Like you have a touch of the flu,” she said. She was on strong pain medicine for the first few days, but the pain was minimal, she said. Now, she can’t even tell that one of her kidneys is missing, she added.

So far, her stepdad’s new kidney is working well. Time will tell if he will reject the organ – he must take more than 40 pills a day to prevent his body from rejecting the kidney and for other health problems. A few weeks ago, Abbett-Wald sent her stepdad some DVDs so he’d have something to do while he was recovering from the surgery. “He called me up and said ‘You’re more like a biological daughter to me,'” she said. “That was really touching for me.”Reached by phone in Minneapolis, Haywa said he was surprised when he first learned that his stepdaughter was a good kidney donor for him. Advancements in anti-rejection drugs make it possible for more people to receive organs from donors who are perfect matches, he said. People need to know that human beings can live perfectly normal lives with just one kidney, even though they are born with two, he said. Abbett-Wald’s decision to donate “was a really great thing,” Haywa said. “I can’t say enough about that.”Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Colorado


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