Transplant Recipient Overcomes Medical Obstacles to Get New Kidney
Gilroy Man Receives Transplant at Age 61
Tom Lewis’ battle with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) began at age 19 upon his high school graduation. “PKD has always run in my family—my grandmother had it and my uncle was the 6th person in the United States to receive a kidney transplant in 1968,” he explains.
Doctors told Tom to keep an eye on the cysts growing in his kidneys and as the years passed, his kidneys continued to enlarge. When Tom’s kidneys functioned at only 10% in the late 1990s, he started dialysis so that a machine could help him with the job his kidneys couldn’t perform.
Finding the Right Place for Care
Tom, a resident of Gilroy, Calif. waited over eight years to receive his kidney since PKD was just one of his many medical battles. “Along the way, I also fought prostate cancer and heart complications, necessitating many visits to the emergency room,” he says. “I got to know the nurses and EMTs at my local hospital a little too well!”
When researching hospitals for a kidney transplant, Tom looked from Northern California to Los Angeles. “The hospitals I visited were too wary of my case because of my medical complications,” Tom explains. Determined to find someone who would take his case, Tom was directed to California Pacific Medical Center by a childhood friend. He contacted South Bay Outreach Coordinator Betsy Bucter, R.N., who scheduled a kidney transplant evaluation. “My experience with California Pacific was fantastic. They treated me like family from the beginning,” he says. “It was a welcome change from my experience with other institutions.”
The Long-Awaited Call
On the evening of July 17th, 2007, Tom received a phone call that a kidney had become available for him. He and his wife Joanie raced to San Francisco and after hours of tests to confirm a kidney match, Tom received his new kidney, which came from an 18-year-old in Oklahoma. “The call and the surgery happened so quickly and unexpectedly—all of the sudden, I was out of surgery with a new kidney,” says Tom.
“The first thing my wife saw was the color change in my face,” explains Tom. “People were telling me ‘My gosh! You look so great, you’ve got color back in your life.’” Tom boasts that he now has more energy and appreciates watching his grandchildren grow up.
Currently, Tom spends his time volunteering at a local Gilroy theme park, taking new technology classes and looking after his grandsons. Last month, the Lewises took their first cruise trip from New York to Quebec, Canada without help from a dialysis team. Tom says, “I am free to go anywhere, anytime—the sky’s the limit, with restriction of course! You can’t go too crazy.”
After his long wait for a transplant, Tom advises others in a similar situation to “hang in there.” He says, “Once the kidney transplant occurs, it’s just the beginning of a new life!”
article published in Kidney Review newsletter