The gift of life: Son donates kidney to his dad
WORTHINGTON — A local man is feeling better with each new day after his first-born son donated a kidney to save his life.
Joe Kinley has been off work since the surgery, and though he’s hopeful to return to his maintenance work as a boiler operator at JBS soon, the bills are adding up. A benefit is planned from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Worthington Elks Lodge. There will be a pulled pork sandwich meal, silent auction, raffle and bake sale to raise money for the family.
Kinley began having health-related problems in April 2015, when it was discovered through routine health checks at JBS that he had high blood pressure. Upon the diagnosis, he was directed to see a physician. Over the course of the next five months, Kinley went through numerous tests and a kidney biopsy before being diagnosed with Rapidly Progressive Glomerulonephritis (RPGN). The kidney disease causes a rapid decrease in the glomerular filtration rate — at least 50% within a short period of time.
By the time Kinley was diagnosed, his kidney function was at just 27 percent. He was prescribed six months of chemotherapy infusions immediately to address autoimmune issues, and was able to take those treatments in Worthington.
“He’d go straight from a chemotherapy session to a 10-hour work day,” interjected Joey, who ultimately donated one of his kidneys to save his dad’s life.
“Up until the kidney (transplant), I never missed any work,” Kinley added.
The chemotherapy infusions continued through February 2016, after which Kinley began taking immunosuppressant medication that made it difficult for him to eat. That May, he was placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant.
Several family members, as well as friends, stepped up to be tested as a potential match, but Kinley’s wife, Patsy, said many of them were ruled out during their initial phone interview.
“If you’re diabetic, have high blood pressure or are 40 pounds or more overweight — those eliminated a lot of people,” she said. “Also, he needed O blood type, and a lot of our family is A blood type.”
Of the Kinleys’ three children, their daughter had Type A blood, and their second son, though he had Type O, was disqualified for another reason.
“You have to be in the top 20% in health in order to donate an organ,” said the 26-year-old Joey, who believed he would be a match, but didn’t complete the testing until it became clear his dad would need to go on dialysis.
Meanwhile, the Kinleys waited for a donor kidney from someone who died.
“They said I’d probably be on the list for three to five years, and that hopefully my numbers would hold off,” Kinley said. “Gradually, they just dropped below 20%. Once it goes below 20, you’re on the list.
“As my numbers were dropping and they were talking dialysis, I was really getting nervous,” Kinley said. “It’s pretty tough. You gotta be off from work, and it takes a toll on your body. I was afraid of it.”
Dialysis would have to be administered five to eight hours per day, three days a week, at the clinic.
“The lowest I got was 9%,” he added. “They told me I had no more choice — I had to go on dialysis. That’s when Joey stepped up and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Joey, who lives in Reading, said he wanted to see if someone else would be a match before he “went full in.”
“When I heard he was about to start dialysis, I said, ‘I’ve got to start getting tested.’”
Joey endured extensive blood testing, exams and a psychological evaluation to make sure he was a viable match for his dad, and his expectation was confirmed on Feb. 26. That started a quick timeline for the kidney transplant.
“When I went into it, it was just — it’s a gift. Here’s a present,” Joey said.
Accepting that gift was bittersweet, though. Kinley was extremely thankful for the gift, but at the same time, fearful of the “what ifs.” What if he took a kidney from his son and it didn’t work?
“I was really hesitant on taking a kidney from my kid, too,” he said. “The doctors assured me you can live a healthy life with one kidney and he’d be fine.”
As a donor, if Joey would ever need a kidney someday, he would move to the top of the list, Kinley added.
“He’s our hero,” Kinley said of his son.
The kidney transplant was performed April 4 at Sanford in Sioux Falls.
While Joey took the surgery “really well,” getting his discharge papers within two days and returning to work a week and a half post-surgery, complications arose for his dad.
“He built up with fluid and couldn’t breathe,” said Patsy. “They had to put a bi-pap machine into him to expand his lungs. He was in critical care for five days, and that delayed kidney function.”
It wasn’t until his eighth day in the critical care unit that Kinley’s new kidney began to work on its own.
He was finally released from the hospital on April 10.
“I was feeling a little better, but I just wanted to get out of there,” Kinley said.
From the hospital, Kinley moved into an apartment for three weeks — a requirement as he continued daily check-ups and testing. During that three-week period, he was admitted into the hospital four different times for infusions and injections due to low hemoglobin.
Kinley lost 20 pounds following the surgery, much of that from fluid buildup.
He continues to have blood work twice a week as doctors change up his medications, but those will eventually be scaled back. Post surgery, he was taking 37 pills per day, and will remain on anti-rejection medication and prednisone for his autoimmune disorder for the rest of his life.
The Kinleys give much credit to his doctors during the transplant, and are thankful for all of the prayers they have received.
“Prayers do help,” Kinley said, adding that today his kidney function is in the normal range.
Anyone willing to donate an item for the raffle or silent auction may contact Trevor Nasers at 370-5080, Paula Krumm at 370-2766 or Marilyn Jueneman at 360-4044.