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Life lines – Kidney recipients describe life and plans after transplants

By Melissa Wagoner

In the spring of 2020 Patty and Mike Kloft learned their seven-year-old son, John, needed an emergency kidney transplant.

“Stanford concluded his kidneys just never formed right,” Patty said, recalling the family’s trip from their home in Mount Angel to the teaching hospital where a team of specialists examined John. “Basically, they just said, we don’t know why.”

With his kidneys functioning at only 12 to 15 percent of the normal kidney function range John was only weeks away from dialysis. Thankfully, doctors determined Patty was a viable match and in March 2021 she successfully gave John the gift of life for a second time.

John is a Make-a-Wish Ambassador this year. He is helping Make a Wish raise funds and awareness for children with health issues.
John is a Make-a-Wish Ambassador this year. He is helping Make a Wish raise funds and awareness for children with health issues.

“I’m very fortunate from what I’ve been told,” John – who is now 11 – said. “I’m feeling great and I grow a lot.”

But not everyone suffering from kidney disease is so lucky. In fact, at the same time John was undergoing surgery, in nearby Silverton, 71-year-old Glen Hammer, who had already been on dialysis for several years, was losing hope.

“I have polycystic kidneys,” Glen said. “It’s progressive. I’ve known I had it since the ’70s. Some people never lose kidney function and some lose it young.”

Glen, a health-conscious cyclist, didn’t begin losing kidney function until he retired but by then things were going downhill fast.

“I went from peritoneal to hemodialysis. It’s a big change and not pleasant,” Glen said, describing the four-hour sessions he would need three times a week. “I had an idea of hemodialysis and I considered not doing it.”

But, as scary as hemodialysis was, the alternative was unthinkable. And so, he did the only thing he could think to do, he put up a yard sign asking for a kidney and waited. In February 2022 his luck finally changed.

“[OHSU] called in the middle of the week,” Glen said. “This was the fifth time I’d been called. Then they called and said, it’s not happening. Then on Saturday they called and said, ‘Can you be here?’”

A cautiously optimistic Glen phoned a friend for a ride to the hospital where the operation would take place.

“You have all of this preparation,” Glen said. “But I didn’t see the surgeon until he rolled in two minutes before and said, ‘What do you think?’”

Feeling as though he had nothing to lose, Glen gave the doctor the thumbs-up and the surgery commenced.

“They said, you might land in the ICU,” Glen recalled. “It happens. But I woke up alone in a hospital room and that was it.”

No more dialysis. Glen was released from the hospital in a remarkable two and a half days feeling better than he had in years.

“There’s the issue of drugs but it’s pretty amazing,” Glen said. “I’m better now at 74 than I was at 70.”

Similarly, Patty said of the changes she has seen in John. “Overall he is healthier than before. But it takes him a lot longer to get over something like a cold. And he has his daily medications.”

Those anti-rejection medications, which both John and Glen will take for the rest of their lives, are critical. Because of that, the two are monitored on both a monthly and a yearly basis, checking overall kidney function.

“We know I’ll have to have another transplant at some point,” John said of his own prognosis. Because the average lifespan of a donated kidney is between 15 and 20 years, it means he may require multiple donations during his life. “But we hope the kidney will go for a long time.”

Right now John is enjoying just being a regular kid – attending school at Butte Creek Elementary, singing in the Silverton Children’s Choir, playing the trombone with the school band and attending summer camp with other “Kidney Kids.”

“It’s very fun,” John said of the support groups and activities he attends thanks to the organization Northwest Kidney Kids. “There aren’t a lot of other people who have had kidney transplants, so it’s nice to meet other people.”

Kidney transplant recipient Glen Hammer and his fiancé Linda Resca on their first date in 2023. Submitted Photos
Kidney transplant recipient Glen Hammer and his fiancé Linda Resca on their first date in 2023.     Submitted Photo

Glen’s life post-transplant has been filled with meeting people as well, including his fiancé, Linda Resca, whom he met online in 2023.

“Our first date was in Portland,” Glen remembered. “We went to lunch and coffee.”

The date chronicled by a PSU photography student practicing candid shots, who said, after looking at the picture, “It looks like you were meant to be together.”

That doesn’t mean Linda wasn’t concerned about dating a man with Glen’s health history.

“I said, do I want a partner long-term that has this happening?” she recalled. “But it didn’t take me long.”

Wedding plans – for Sept. 28 at The Oregon Garden – ensued.

“She’s an adventurer,” Glen said. “It feels like a very youthful time for me.”

Glen isn’t the only one whose family is expanding. In August, John – who was previously an only-child – will become a big brother to twins.

“Healthwise for pregnancy, I’m doing great,” Patty said, “my OB team is monitoring my kidney health. They do not expect any issues related to having a single kidney. Amazingly my last lab work showed the best kidney health I’d had since donating.”

In other words, “I would donate again in a second and advocate for living donation when I can… Our family are strong supporters of both living and deceased donations… any organ donation truly can change and enhance a life.”

Unsurprisingly, Glen is an activist as well.

“I hope people are encouraged to give,” he said. 

“It’s a beautiful thing when someone is suffering and you can help.”

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