Transplant triumph: Gary Bos gets new kidney and a new lease on life

RUSHMORE -- On Jan. 1, 2004, Gary and Jennifer Bos received both some joyous news and some devastating news. The good news: Jennifer found out she was pregnant with their fourth child. The bad news: Gary was diagnosed with an incurable kidney dis...

RUSHMORE -- On Jan. 1, 2004, Gary and Jennifer Bos received both some joyous news and some devastating news.

The good news: Jennifer found out she was pregnant with their fourth child. The bad news: Gary was diagnosed with an incurable kidney disease.

When Gary woke up that New Year's Day morning, he was sick to his stomach and had a terrible backache. Since he was never one to succumb to illness, Jennifer knew immediately that something was terribly amiss.

"This is a guy who never goes to the doctor, who never even takes a Tylenol," she said. "For him to say, yeah, I needed to take him in, I knew something was wrong."

The couple headed immediately to the emergency room in Sioux Falls, S.D., where it was determined that his kidneys were the source of the problem. Kidney stones were ruled out, and a spiral CAT scan revealed that his kidneys were greatly enlarged and covered with cysts.


"It looked like a huge cluster of grapes, not smooth, like an organ should be," recalled Gary about the resulting voluminous film.

The diagnosis: polycystic kidney disease.

"You start having cysts on your kidneys, and they keep growing. They get bigger and bigger, and it shuts your kidneys off," Gary described of the disease.

The condition can be hereditary or spontaneous. Since no one in Gary's family had ever reported kidney problems, they assume his case is spontaneous, but there's a 50/50 chance now that each of their four children can inherit PKD.

According to the PKD Foundation, PKD affects one in 500 newborns, children and adults regardless of sex, age, race or ethnic origin. It does not skip a generation. There is no cure; dialysis and transplantation are the only treatments for kidney failure.

"When we first found out, the first thing you think is, 'Why me?'" related Gary. "But then you go to the hospital for testing and see so many people who are worse off. There are so many diseases that are incurable, that there's nothing you can do about it. This isn't curable, but it can eventually be fixed."

For years, Gary had suffered from backaches and other symptoms that he attributed to how he made his living, as a farmer and a trucker. By the time his condition was discovered, his kidney function was down to 30 percent, but a transplant wasn't an immediate option.

"They want to wait until the kidneys are pretty much used up, until they're not useful at all, because it does shorten the life span" of the kidney, explained Jennifer. "He could get 15, 20 years, then have to have another transplant. They want to get you as long a life as possible out of that kidney."


Gary's condition was monitored and maintained for the next four years, until his kidney function was down to 10 percent and the time for transplant was at hand. While some people wait years to find a suitable donor, Gary had two sisters and many other relatives who were willing to sacrifice an organ.

"My first instinct was I'd give him a kidney, but I wasn't a blood match," Jennifer said.

"My (oldest) sister was the first person to get tested, and she was a match," added Gary. "We had many friends, family members who said they would get tested if need be. We never had to ask. You don't want to ask."

Sister Julie Hulleman owns a flower shop in Sioux Center, Iowa, and has been particularly close to Gary and Jennifer and their four children and is a frequent visitor to their rural Rushmore home. Gary and Julie went in for surgery on Jan. 23 at the Avera McKennan Transplant Center in Sioux Falls.

"We were extremely blessed with the surgeons and the nurses there," said Jennifer. "They were in the middle of a turnover and flew a surgeon in from San Diego."

To add to the stress of the surgery, there were some insurance and financial considerations that surfaced at that time.

"We had an insurance crisis," Jennifer explained. "For 10 years, we'd never had a claim, and up until the surgery, everything was good. Then the company found a loophole and dumped us. ... It makes you hyper aware of all the things that could go wrong, but I would rather have it be on the money end than on the medical end. ... It makes you stop and take stock of what's important. I was having so much stress from the insurance thing, but on the day of the surgery, I had to let go of it. I thought that if he makes it through surgery, we have each other, we have four kids who are healthy, and that's all that really matters."

The surgery went according to plan, with no more surprises along the way.


"They told me they figured the surgery would go well, that I'd do well because I didn't have any other health problems," said Gary.

Almost immediately after surgery, Jennifer could see a marked difference in her husband.

"The transformation is amazing," she said. "I would say by the next day after surgery, you could see that his skin was pink again, not that gray tone. His eyes were sparkling. Within a couple days, he was walking circles around the nurses' station. I was just awed at the transformation."

In retrospect, Gary now realizes that he hadn't felt really good for a very long time, probably long before his disease was discovered.

"It's just a night and day difference," he said. "You go to bed at night, wake up and feel like you hadn't slept. As it slowly got worse, you tell yourself it's another day, force yourself to go to work. You don't realize how far down you've gone until after."

Both Gary and donor Julie have recovered well from their respective surgeries. Gary recently returned to some of his normal trucking and farming duties, the only difference being he now has three kidneys -- his original two weren't removed.

"I really don't have any limitations," Gary said. "The new kidney is in front, right under the skin. I just have to be aware of that. When I cam home, I had to wait to wrestle with the kids for a while, but everything is now back to normal. I now have to go in once a week to have blood samples drawn."

The blood tests would show any signs of his body rejecting the new kidney. Currently, he's taking a multitude of medications, which will eventually be tapered off, but he will be on three anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. He also has to drink at least two gallons of water a day and is never without a water bottle.


Despite the new kidney, however, Gary will still have to suffer through problems associated with PKD. The cysts on his original kidneys will continue to grow and could burst, spreading toxins throughout his body.

"If they are big enough, I'll get nausea, throw up, sharp pains," Gary described. "That usually lasts about a week. You definitely know when it happens."

The anti-rejection drugs make him much more susceptible to skin cancer, so Gary will need to wear long sleeves and hats whenever he goes outside.

They continue to fight the insurance company through political channels and are faced with huge medical bills.

But those ongoing inconveniences and issues now seem like a small price to pay for Gary's return to good health-- and being able to wrestle on the floor with his kids -- once again.

"We take our health for granted. We think we're invincible, but that can change pretty fast," reflected Gary.

"It's a gift that you don't know how to say thank you for," said Jennifer about the organ donation process. "God took this tragedy in our lives and turned it into so many blessings. We have a stronger faith, stronger relationships. We're not people who ask for help. It's hard to ask for help, and it's really humbling to be on this end of it. It's much easier for us to give than to receive. But wow, are we blessed."

A benefit for the Gary Bos family will be from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church, 1000 Linda Lane, Worthington. A lunch of barbecues, chips, beans and dessert will be served for a free-will offering, with proceeds going to help with medical expenses. There will also be a silent auction featuring items such as an aerial flight, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre tickets, a Brandenburg print and other items donated by local businesses. Supplemental funds are available from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

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