Wife's donation gives husband life - Catholic Courier

Wife’s donation gives husband life

It’s impossible to put a price tag on the gift that Jo Anne Kleehammer gave her husband, Dave.

Yes, she gave him a kidney, but more importantly, she gave him his health back, he said, reflecting on the organ donation that took place Aug. 14 at Strong Memorial Hospital.

The parishioners of Brockport’s Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish said their faith helped them through their operations.

“I couldn’t have done it without my faith,” Jo Anne Kleehammer said. “That kept me from worrying.”

This weekend, faith communities across the country will be promoting organ donation through National Donor Sabbath, a weekend dedicated to educating members of faith communities nationwide about organ, eye, tissue, marrow and blood donations.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nonvital organ transplants from living donors conform with moral law if the danger and risk to the donor is proportionate to the good that is sought for the recipient.

Dave Kleehammer had few options prior to the transplant. Nearly a decade ago, a routine medical test showed a sign that something might be wrong with his kidneys. Doctors soon discovered his kidneys were slowly failing. They worsened over the course of eight years, until in 2006 he was told he would need either a transplant or to go on dialysis.

“I was right on the cusp of going on dialysis,” he said, noting that the operation would have been delayed had he gone on dialysis.

He had been diagnosed with focal segmental glomerular sclerosis, a condition where scarring in the kidneys has occurred, damaging their filtering capabilities. He said a person can have kidney disease for years without realizing it because the symptoms are subtle and can include fatigue, nausea and headache. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the two main causes are high blood pressure and diabetes, and a person with a chronic kidney disease also may have anemia, weak bones, nerve damage or poor nutritional health.

“They call kidney disease the silent killer,” Dave Kleehammer said.

Compounding his problems, it was discovered during an ultrasound that he had been born with only one kidney, which may have contributed to the kidney failure, he said.

For about eight years, he was treated for high blood pressure and also exercised and lost weight to lower demands on his kidneys. Eventually, though, his kidney function was low enough to necessitate a transplant or dialysis, and his health began to fail.

“When I started (treatements) there were 62,000 on the transplant list, and now, before the surgery, there were 74,000,” Dave Kleehammer said.

That’s when his wife and two of their four children were tested to see if they would be a match for a living donation. All were matches.

Jo Anne Kleehammer said she didn’t hesitate to volunteer to donate her kidney to her husband.

“It didn’t seem like a big deal for me,” she said. “When I found out I was a match and I could be the donor, they make you read about all the risks.”

Even so, she knew that donating her kidney would help her husband get healthy again.

“I just felt God was watching over me,” she said. “I thought it would be better to have faith than to worry.”

Jo Anne Kleehammer had to have extensive tests to make sure she had no undiagnosed health problems. Although her surgery was done laproscopically, which means a smaller incision and quicker recovery, she said she still had some pain following the surgery. Dave Kleehammer’s hockey-stick-shaped incision was much larger and required about 45 staples to close.

Both are monitored long-term after the surgery to ensure they stay healthy. Jo Anne Kleehammer said she feels tired more easily now that she is living with one kidney, but her husband has been rejuvenated by his new kidney.

“He’s got a lot more energy,” she said. “He talks a lot more.”

In October Jo Anne Kleehammer was able to return to work as a secretary in the Pupil Personnel Service Department for the Brockport Central School District. Her husband hopes to return to the district later in the school year; he is a tenth-grade biology teacher in Brockport and also coaches soccer.

He said last year he was able to teach his biology students about the need for more organ donations.

“Our kids are wonderful,” Dave Kleehammer said. “They have organized a blood drive and organized all kinds of service projects for organ donations.”

The Kleehammers credit their health and recovery to doctors at both Strong Memorial Hospital and Park Ridge Hospital. They say the area is blessed to have a transplant facility such as Strong’s; every bed was filled in the transplant ward with people who were undergoing transplants, Jo Anne Kleehammer said.

The couple said the community has supported them throughout their months of recovery.

“We are so grateful to everyone who brought us a meal,” Jo Anne Kleehammer said. “It was so helpful.”

Her husband likes to joke with her that she will always be touching him. He now believes that it wasn’t a coincidence that the couple met through a teen event at the former St. Augustine Parish in Rochester. At the time, she was a parishioner of St. Augustine, and he was a parishioner at the former Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Rochester.

“God had a plan for us,” he said. “Everything worked out. Jo Anne is a part of me, literally.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on organ donation or National Donor Sabbath, visit www.donatelife.net, or call the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network at 585-272-4956.

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