National Kidney Month (March) is coming to an end, but for Valley residents affected by kidney failure, awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease is something always on their minds.
Clovis resident Jon DeChambeau, 56, calls his three-times-a-week dialysis treatment “a part-time job.”
“I’m there for four hours a day, three times a week,” he explained. “They take my blood out of my body five times and then put back into me. It goes through the filter and it acts like my kidneys. It’s like a mechanical kidney that keeps me alive.”
Kidneys are bean-shaped organs in the upper abdominal cavity that extract waste from blood, balance body fluids and form urine.
DeChambeau’s kidneys stopped working in 2014 due to his decades-long battle with diabetes.
This isn’t the life DeChambeau pictured for himself.
“I thought I was bulletproof,” said DeChambeau, who was a pro golfer for 18 years. “I was an athlete, I was in good shape. That was all taken away from me because my kidney stopped working.”
At first, he was able to do at-home peritoneal dialysis through the Fresno Nephrology Group. Each night he would hook himself up to a machine that would pump 10 liters of fluid into his body through his stomach. While he slept, the blood vessels in his abdominal lining would fill in for his kidneys in the filtration process.
For 17 months, DeChambeau said, although he was strapped to the PD machine all night, his daytime life was normal.
“The Fresno Nephrology Group was wonderful,” he said. “I was capable of having a life rather than just lying around.”
Due to complications following open heart surgery, DeChambeau was no longer able to do dialysis at home. Fresno Nephrology Group switched him to hemodialysis. He has a port in his chest that hooks up to the dialysis machines.
His only hope is for a kidney transplant. Humans need only one functioning kidney, so it is one of the few organs that can be given by live donors rather than cadavers.
DeChambeau has been on transplant wait lists for both the Southern California and Northern California regions since May 2014, but doctors have told him it could take up to eight years to reach the top of the list, DeChambeau said.
“If I had somebody who was capable or wanted to donate a kidney for me, they could do that, and that would help me out tremendously. But I don’t,” he said. “I don’t have anyone that’s saying, “Hey Jon, I’d like to give you one of my kidneys.” It takes a special person to donate a kidney, although it’s not very hard.”
Clovis High School graduate Darlene Primavera is one such special person.
She had worked for years as a surgical technician and assisted with organ transplants. At age 19 she decided she would one day donate her organs.
That day came on July 18, 2009, at age 33 when she donated one of her kidneys to her father in law, Panfilo Primavera. The Fiore di Pasta owner, then 67, had diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure and was put on dialysis.
“That’s just not a life for anybody,” Darlene Primavera said.
The transplant was done at UCSF Medical Center; Darlene was discharged within 48 hours and her father-in-law was released just a day after her. He even went back to work just a week after the operation, Primavera said.
“I knew that I could be perfectly healthy after donating,” Primavera said. “I donated my kidney and two years later, I had a child. Actually, my kidney functions better now than before I donated a kidney.”
Primavera is now an advocate for kidney donations and sits on the board of the Fresno Nephrology Kidney Foundation.
“This foundation is for the Central Valley. Some families struggle to pay for the gas to get to UCSF or other hospitals for their transplants and tests. The foundation is set up to help people with transportation and money for hotels and gas.”
A fundraising golf tournament is being planned, and the third annual Kare for Kidney Run will be held Oct. 15. Visit www.kareforkidney.com to register.
The foundation, founded this year, held a family education event on March 6 in honor of National Kidney Month. Doctors, patients and nonprofit organizations were there to educate people about their options if they have renal failure, and also how to prevent it, Primavera said.
DeChambeau spoke that the event, advising everyone to eat healthier, stay active and — most importantly, in his opinion — get annual physicals and listen to their doctors.
“Go to your doctors and get tested for diseases. If you don’t, this is what can happen to you,” he said.
Primavera wants to assure people that kidney donors can lead healthy lives.
“Your doctor will monitor you two years post-operation every three months for creatinine levels,” she said. “And there is no cost to donors. You want to give and that’s it. You give and you receive that pride at the end of the day and feeling that you know you’ve done something to help someone.”
Primavera’s father-in-law enjoyed five more years of life after the transplant, she said, but passed away two years ago from lung cancer.
“If I could’ve saved him from cancer, trust me, I would’ve done the same thing,” she said.
Kidney donation is the most frequent living donor procedure, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
“We’re blessed with two, I guess, to see if we can share one,” Primavera said. “That other one is just hanging out anyway, might as well give it away!
“If I had more kidneys, I’d give them to everybody.”