By Rachel E. Sheeley / Pal-Item.com
This year, Susan Preston gave Bruce Dodds a Christmas gift that is changing his life.
Preston donated a kidney to Dodds.
“Her gift means a normal life again,” Dodds said.
The living donor kidney transplant surgery took place Dec. 7 at IU Health University Hospital in Indianapolis. Dodds and Preston, both Richmond residents, are well on the mend.
For the first time in three years, food tastes good again to Dodds. His fluid intake is no longer restricted and he is free from dialysis.
“It’s pretty amazing for someone not related to our family to make that gift,” said Dodds’ daughter, Lara Dodds.
Preston’s husband, Roger Preston, and her daughters, Jessica McMorrow and Elise Chadwick, were not surprised by Preston’s generosity.
“Susan is a make-a-difference kind of person,” Roger Preston said.
“I would say my mom was unswerving in her decision (to donate) from Day One,” McMorrow said.
Preston feels the Christmas season is the perfect time to celebrate Dodds’ renewed life.
“The greatest gift given to us was Jesus,” she said. “It almost seemed minuscule (in comparison) to give a kidney. It just seemed so right.”
Preston and Dodds became acquainted eight years ago when he became her boss at Earlham College, where she is an administrative assistant. They each have three children and became grandparents at about the same time.
They worked together for five years before Dodds was blindsided by kidney failure from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder causing cysts. It is the most common life-threatening genetic disease, one that often lies dormant for years.
Dodds had been treated for cancer not long before the kidney failure and believes that was his trigger.
His life changed immediately.
The kidneys control about 80 to 85 percent of the body’s operating systems, Dodds said. He couldn’t work and had to have dialysis three days a week.
“It (dialysis) takes over your life,” Dodds said.
Most people, he said, understand that dialysis cleanses the blood because the kidneys can no longer handle that function. What they don’t realize, he said, is that dialysis also removes the excess fluid from the body because without working kidneys, urination is not possible.
Each dialysis treatment, Dodds said, is as hard on the body as running a marathon and that body is operating at just 30 percent of its normal energy level.
Roger Preston, who works at Reid Hospital, said there is a misconception that a person can handle dialysis indefinitely.
“It’s a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” he said.
“We had no idea it was such a physical hardship,” Susan Preston said.
The past three years have been an emotional roller coaster for Dodds and his family. Initially, Dodds’ wife, Marilyn, was deemed a match as his kidney donor. But when doctors discovered she had kidney stones, she became ineligible. Dodds said his wife literally cried for two weeks.
Other family members sought to be a match, but they were discovered to have the genetic predisposition to polycystic kidney disease. Dodds was listed as a transplant candidate on state and national databases. He had one near match.
“It’s been three years of trying circumstances,” Lara Dodds said. “(My father) has gotten through it with great courage and great strength.”
All along, Preston offered to be a donor and she was found to be a match.
She laughs when she says, “My doctor said he must have been a really good boss.”
To prepare for the surgery and life afterward with one kidney each, Preston and Dodds went through extensive physical tests this year to make sure they were as healthy as possible.
Dodds’ perseverance through the hardships inspired Preston.
“(He) has done the best job to take care of himself. He didn’t make it handicap him,” she said. “I knew that I was giving it (the kidney) to someone who was doing his part to take care of it.”
For Preston, the most emotional part of the experience happened while they were both in the recovery room.
Roger Preston came in to see his wife and saw that there was urine in a bag attached to Dodds’ bed, meaning that his transplanted kidney was functioning.
“When I heard that, I started crying,” Susan Preston said. “The nurse was asking, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I am just so thankful.’”
Dodds’ family noticed his improvement as soon as he was wheeled into his room. Everyone said his color was better — pink where he had once been gray.
“It’s important for me to take care of it,” Dodds said, noting that he will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life. “It’s not something that I take lightly. It’s serious stuff.”
He is able to smile when he notes, “I’m not supposed to tell her ‘thank you’ anymore. Susan and Roger know I’ll always be thankful.”
Dodds and his wife have plans to resume the hiking and outdoor activities they enjoyed before his illness. Dodds also is looking forward to spending more time with his grandson and a new grandchild due in February. Preston enjoys her granddaughter and two grandsons.
Both families know that their faith, along with prayers by friends, family and strangers, helped them move through the process with peace and confidence.
“I’m just glad I was able to help Grandpa Bruce,” Preston said.
“Everybody deserves to have their grandpa and their dad in their life,” Preston’s daughter, Jessica McMorrow, said. “When you see how someone’s life gets put on hold… It’s the right thing to do.”