When Allen Kreke learned his friend Jim Svoboda’s kidneys were failing, he knew he had to do all he could to help.
What started with a simple Facebook post from Jim’s wife about their search for a living kidney donor ended in a lifesaving gift—and a contribution to the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital that could impact transplant patients for years to come.
The Search for a Living Donor
More than two decades ago, Jim was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a condition in which the kidneys develop multiple cysts.
By 2010, Jim’s kidney function was in steady decline. His wife, Karen, was a match to be his living kidney donor but health issues prevented her from donating.
Time was running out. As his kidneys began to fail, Jim could no longer go to work as an operator of a printing press or enjoy the outdoor activities he loved. His dream to walk his daughter down the aisle at her upcoming wedding seemed too much to hope for.
But sometimes an unexpected turn for the worse can lead to a better future than you imagined.
Jim’s friend Allen Kreke realized the severity of Jim’s condition when Jim missed their annual trip to Canada.
“When I saw Jim’s wife posting on Facebook about their struggle, I knew I had to do something,” Allen says. “I know I’ll never win the lottery, but I just knew I would be a match.”
And he was right.
After some setbacks, Allen was officially cleared to be Jim’s kidney donor and the transplant date was set. On Sept. 4, 2014, Allen and Jim headed to Barnes-Jewish Hospital where the transplant surgeries went without a hitch.
INNOVATIONS MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR LIVING KIDNEY DONORS
Jim and Allen credit the amazing transplant team at Barnes-Jewish—and the leading-edge research happening there—for their positive transplant experience.
Barnes-Jewish has one of the oldest and most established transplant programs in the country. Washington University physicians perform more than 200 kidney transplant procedures each year at Barnes-Jewish with an acute rejection rate of less than 5 percent—one of the lowest rates in the world.
Allen, a dedicated exerciser and weight lifter, wanted the quickest recovery possible so he could return to the gym.
His physician, Surendra Shenoy, MD, PhD, Washington University transplant surgeon at Barnes-Jewish and head of the hospital’s living donor transplant program, suggested a less invasive transplant technique called the mini-nephrectomy.
Dr. Shenoy, a national leader in transplant surgery, helped pioneer this groundbreaking procedure now used with living donors across the country. The technique uses a 2-inch keyhole incision as compared to the traditional 10-inch incision.
Thanks to the mini-nephrectomy, Allen was home from the hospital the next day after surgery and back to exercise and work within two weeks.
“I had very little pain overall from the whole process—that’s pretty phenomenal,” Allen says.
A New Lease on Life
“I’m doing 100 percent better,” Jim says. “The kidney transplant meant everything. For the four years before the transplant, I felt terrible and had zero energy. I couldn’t do anything I like to do. Now, I feel like I can do anything I want.”
“I went running this year for the first time,” Jim says. “I went fishing with the guys. I cut grass, which I like to do. It’s changed my life. I’m back to normal.”
But most important of all, Jim was able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding last October. Thanks to the Barnes-Jewish transplant team and the generosity of Allen, his living donor, Jim not only walked arm-in-arm with his daughter, he also danced. Now that is a lifesaving gift.
Giving Back to Research
Allen knew he wanted to give back to the doctors who saved Jim’s life, and he rallied his friends for support. He established the Kidney Research Fund at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital to support Dr. Shenoy’s leading-edge research to explore and develop innovative procedures for kidney transplant patients.
“When Dr. Shenoy told me about his research, I really was impressed,” Allen says. “For me, the doctors are the most amazing part of this whole process. Procedures like the mini-nephrectomy don’t come without a cost. I would love to support the doctors’ work so they can continue to do more research, and we can continue to get more people to donate a kidney through the living donor program.”
He continues: “Donor gifts ensure many more people like Jim will receive the gift of life for years to come.”