A Priceless Gift
Writer / Suz Huntzinger
Lori and Ken Krabbe might have been expecting the traditional diamonds and pearls for their 30th anniversary, but what the couple received was something they could never have imagined. Married at the ages of 18 and 19, they always knew they had an enduring love, promising to be in it for better or worse. They found out just how much one’s life would have to depend on the other. Lori gave Ken the gift of life by donating her kidney to him in last December.
With Ken’s kidneys failing putting him just four weeks shy of beginning dialysis, Lori was looking for a way to make the worse better. So without a blink of an eye, she underwent the process to donate her kidney to Ken. A few months after the surgery, the two look fantastic and say they’re doing remarkably well. The couple left the hospital just a few days after the surgery. As of February, Ken could drive and go back to work. Lori was able to drive and go back to the gym by the end of January.
Lori’s demeanor is nonchalant as she describes the journey that began nearly two years ago. Battling unexplained chronic high blood pressure since his teenage years, Ken says he tried everything to keep his blood pressure under control including medications and diet modification. But two years ago in January of 2013, the years of chronic high blood pressure began to catch up with him. A nephrologist confirmed extensive damage to his kidneys. Ken’s health deteriorated so much during that time causing extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and swelling. Instead of joining the family for vacations or other activities, Ken was sidelined, often resting or napping and struggling to feel better.
In November of 2013, he became so sick he had to be hospitalized. “It was really tough seeing him go through this,” said Lori. “We’re used to being very active, going on vacations and such. But we couldn’t do anything or go anywhere Ken felt so fatigued.”
Lori decided she would work on improving her own health by starting a weight loss program. “I was improving, but he was declining,” Lori said. As Ken’s kidney function dropped and the date for starting dialysis drew closer, the couple kept searching for answers. Lori explains since dialysis is not a permanent fix, they were hoping to avoid it for Ken. Finally by March of 2014, Lori started exploring the idea of donating her kidney to Ken. Doctors told her she would have to lose more weight first to become a candidate.
During the process, many people tried to talk her out of donating her kidney. Even Ken wasn’t sold on the idea. “I hated the idea of someone going through major surgery for me,” Ken said. But according to Lori, it never crossed her mind to do anything else but help make Ken’s quality of life better. Then, in October 2014, she got the call that she was a match and was fit to undergo surgery. Even right up to the moment before they were ready to start anesthesia, nurses and doctors were asking her if she wanted to reconsider. Lori refused to change her mind.
Lori wasn’t nervous and she actually couldn’t wait to get the surgery over with and see Ken return to health. “Nurses, doctors, friends, relatives, they all say I saved Ken’s life,” she said. “Maybe from their perspective, I did. But I saw it as improving his quality of life.”
Now, they’re both amazed at the changes in each other. Lori lost 60 pounds and Ken lost 55 pounds of fluid. Lori and Ken both tell me they were shocked to see how quickly the effects of kidney disease reversed. “I look at myself in the mirror and I’m shocked to see that I’ve dropped 55 pounds of fluids, I can actually see my ankles, I have more energy and I feel great,” Ken said.
So, what’s ahead for them as they embark on their new lease on life? Lori says they’re going to concentrate on recovery and improved health. After that, they want to resume their normal activities. They hope to take a vacation in May and spend time with their two children and granddaughter.
But more important than that, Lori says she’s on a mission to spread awareness about organ donation. “There are over 100,000 patients on the list waiting for a kidney, and only 15,000 donors,” she said. “I want to spread awareness to help bring those numbers closer.”
For more information about live organ donation, go to matchingdonors.com, and for more information about kidney disease, go to kidney.org. And to learn more about organ donation see donatelifeindiana.org.