Waiting game: Hope for a match

September 2021 Posted in Community

By Melissa Wagoner 

Yard signs are pretty common but the one in Glen Hammer’s yard isn’t. It reads: “I need a kidney. Can you help?”

It’s blunt and to the point because Hammer – at 72 and suffering from late-stage polycystic kidney disease – can’t afford to beat around the bush. 

“I have masses of cysts on my kidneys,” Hammer said of the disease which interrupts the flow of blood, decreasing kidney function and eventually leading to failure. 

It’s grim diagnoses and one Hammer has lived with for nearly 50 years.

“In the early 70s I had an episode where I was passing blood,” Hammer, who was then living in Seattle, recalled. “Luckily the University of Washington did a bunch of imaging…and they knew it was genetic so my whole family went into the hospital and they determined it was from my dad’s side. But he’s asymptomatic.”

Hammer has lead an incredibly healthy lifestyle that helped him avoid many of the other diseases typically associated with PKD, such as heart disease and diabetes. 

“I’m a lifetime bicyclist,” Hammer said. “And I’m a vegetarian. Basically, I’m just an old hippy.”

The régime served him well, forestalling the need for dialysis – a blood purifying treatment – until well into his 60s. 

“For five years I was dialyzing at home,” Hammer said of the early days. “I was managing all of my dialysis at night. But then my peritoneal cavity broke down.”

Now Hammer travels to Salem three times a week for four-hour treatments. It’s been an arduous process. 

“I’ve had internal bleeding, fatigue and multiple hospital visits in the last year,” Hammer said. 

His only hope – a new kidney. 

“People who have gotten kidneys, they call it a life-changing experience,” Hammer said. He has been registered with Oregon Health and Science University’s transplant program for the past six years. 

Receiving a second chance at the retired life he had planned – one full of biking trips and trips around the world with friends – is something he almost cannot imagine. 

“I want to get a kidney and feel like I’m on the upswing and get back on the bicycle,” Hammer said. “My dream when I retired was to travel.”

That dream has been truncated by his medical needs and the pandemic, which made isolating at home necessary. 

“That medical stuff I needed to be involved with became really a problem,” he said. “My association with OHSU meant that as soon as vaccinations were allowed, I got one,” he added, however, he still limits his exposure by allowing only his caregiver, Chelsea Rubeck, inside the house and moving his weekly coffee circle to his backyard.

“He’s surrounded by great people,” Rubeck said. “It’s a real testament.”

Several of those friends have attempted to donate a kidney to Hammer, but unfortunately, one by one each was denied because of preexisting conditions.

Those haven’t been the only false alarms.

“I’ve been called four times,” Hammer said of the calls from OHSU, which come with a 90-minute heads-up telling him to grab his bags and head for Portland.

“On all four occasions there was some reason why it wasn’t a good match,” Hammer said. 

Which is where the yard signs come in.

“OHSU has a program called [The Big Ask:] The Big Give,” Hammer said. That,  along with the Erase the Wait program, helps match those in need with a donor. 

“Already there’s reason to be hopeful,” Hammer said, listing four phone calls he received from Silvertonians who saw the sign, but each was also denied.

“Each of the people had serious medical conditions of their own,” he explained. “But they were still willing to look into it.”

Now, Hammer is attempting to reach out further than his neighborhood, hopeful that more potential donors will come forward to be matched, if not with him, then with another PKD patient.

“I hope that us doing this creates some energy for other people who may be waiting,” he said. “I’m really optimistic.”


Kidney donation info:

www.ohsu.edu/transplant/ living-kidney-donation

Glen Hammer, 503-873-4019

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