New lease on life: Curtis Schmidt has improved outlook following kidney transplant
SLAYTON — Today marks 70 days for Curtis Schmidt’s new kidney.
Curtis and Darlene have lived on their farm just northeast of Slayton for all of their married life — Curtis for all of his life. In conjunction with son Garry, the Schmidts continue to farm their 650 acres of land.
“We used to have hogs and cattle years ago. We even used to milk cows .... But one year all our neighbors were going to Hawaii, so we sold the milk cows and went to Hawaii, too,” recalled Curtis, referring to a long-ago ag organization trip.
About 10 years ago, Curtis began having some health problems, and it was determined his kidneys weren’t functioning properly.
“He thinks some medication did it, but the doctors say no,” explained Darlene about the continuing mystery of what caused Curtis’ ailment.
“It just started slowly getting worse,” Curtis said.
Although Curtis said he still felt OK, his name was first placed on the transplant list for a kidney about six years ago. When the need for dialysis became imminent, an arteriovenous fistula was placed in his arm. A fistula is a dialysis access created by surgically joining an artery and a vein to increase blood flow rates and reduce the incidence of infection and thrombosis.
“He had the fistula a year before he did go on dialysis,” Darlene noted.
Curtis began dialysis while they wintered in Arizona. When they returned north, he continued dialysis treatments in Worthington.
The treatments took their toll, both on his body and his spirit.
“I had it three times a week, and each one took at least three hours, probably four hours when you’re all done,” said Curtis. “Half the day was shot.”
“You can’t go anywhere, even overnight, because you have to be back the next day,” added Darlene.
The dialysis was physically draining, leaving Curtis tired and unable to do much other than sleep afterward.
“And I’d have such a headache,” he remembered. “It was no good. I don’t know why I would get such a headache.”
Although he was anxious to get a new kidney, Curtis voluntarily removed his name from the transplant list for a time, initially when he was busy combining beans and then through their wintertime Arizona stay. But when they came back to the farm after the first of this year and got the crops in the ground, Curtis was ready to move forward with the process.
“I knew I was getting up there in age,” he said, “and you might be on the list for three years before any kidney becomes available.”
Curtis had talked to his transplant doctor and taken all the preliminary tests to make sure he would still be eligible for a new kidney.
“He said, ‘I don’t know why you can’t have one. You’re in pretty good shape for your age,’” related Curtis, now 80.
A kidney donated by a family member is usually the best option for someone experiencing kidney failure. Son Garry had offered to donate a kidney when the time came, but advanced testing indicated Gary had a health issue that could have turned into a complication.
“We were not going to jeopardize his life,” said Darlene.
So Curtis continued with dialysis and waited for a donor kidney to become available. After six years of waiting, his name was now at the top of the list.
Just a week after Curtis put his name back on the transplant list, the phone rang at 9:30 p.m. Curtis didn’t hesitate when he was asked if he wanted a new kidney.
“We got to Sioux Falls about 12:30,” Curtis said. “By the time they got me in there, I didn’t get much rest.”
The surgery went as well as could possibly be expected — maybe even better.
“It only took two hours and 45 minutes,” Curtis said. “They can usually take four hours.”
All four of the Schmidts’ children — Nancy, Terry, Garry and Karen — were there when their dad was taken into surgery. Darlene was by his bedside every day.
“She slept in that little chair in the corner,” said Curtis. “I’ve got to give her credit for doing a good job of taking care of me.”
After being hospitalized at Avera-McKennan for six days post-surgery, Curtis was discharged to the Walsh Family Village, a residence for patients who are receiving treatment at Avera and their families, for some follow-up outpatient treatment.
Home sweet home
The Schmidts finally returned home, but with a strict regimen of medication and limitations on what Curtis could or could not do.
“When I was first in the hospital, in the morning I was taking 25 pills, and then another 12 or so at night,” detailed Curtis. “”Now I’m down to 18 in the morning, eight at night. The anti-rejection meds I will take for life.”
The pills must be ingested exactly 12 hours apart, so Curtis goes through the medication ritual at 7 in the morning and 7 in the evening.
“I’ve got one of those daily pill (dispensers), and I’ve got a method for putting in the pills,” he said. “I line them all up (the prescription bottles), and I tip the bottle over when I’ve got it done. I’ve never been good at swallowing pills, and when you have to do 25 of them, it felt like they were lined up down my throat like a semi.”
Taking all the medications may be bothersome, but Curtis is aware they are very necessary, as are all of his post-surgery instructions. He watches what he eats, drinks a lot of water and goes for daily walks. Because his immune system has been compromised, he uses sunscreen regularly and takes other precautions to safeguard his well-being. Once a week he has blood drawn, and the tests are sent to Sioux Falls for evaluation.
“There are a lot of things I have to do now that I didn’t have to do before,” reflected Curtis. “But it’s worth it.
“I’m so glad that I went through it,” he continued. “I feel so much better, and I couldn’t go anywhere before.”
As his body has slowly recovered from the surgery, Curtis has been able to resume some of his regular chores. He mowed the lawn last week and picked sweet corn. He and Darlene were able to take a bus trip to the Twins game. And when harvest season rolls around, he anticipates being back behind the wheel of the combine.
The timing of the transplant couldn’t have been better for Curtis’ farming schedule.
“I had the crops all in when I got the kidney, and the doctor said, ‘We’ll have you all ready to combine this fall,’” Curtis said. “Everything just fell into place.”
When the time comes for the Schmidts to head south to their winter home in Arizona, they will do so without having to worry about scheduling dialysis treatments.
Since his surgery, Curtis has only returned to the dialysis unit once —to see his dialysis cohorts who still require treatment. A camaraderie develops among the patients, he said, almost like a club.
“I went back, got a whole bunch of rolls and doughnuts and dropped them off,” he said. “And that’s it. I’m not going back.”
The gift of health
Curtis is resolved to take the absolute best care possible of his new kidney, so he doesn’t ever have to go through dialysis again and also to honor the amazing gift made possible through organ donation.
All the Schmidts know about the donated kidney is that it came from a young man who died in an accident.
“You can write a letter to the family, and we did that,” said Curtis. “If they want to get in contact with us, they can.”
“They might not want to know right away,” added Darlene. “It might be hard for them at first, but maybe in time we will hear from them.”
“I really appreciate that people are willing to do that,” continued Curtis. “So whatever they tell me I have to do, I’m listening.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers
can be reached at 376-7327.