Colorado Springs man gets kidney transplant -- thanks to Facebook and an old classmate
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - David VanDinter was diagnosed with a hereditary kidney disease when he was 21.
“I was active duty, Army, and my sister had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease a few years earlier. They found a cyst on my kidney. I did a lot of research on polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and found out it [typically] progresses over decades as opposed to years.”
So he felt like he had time, felt the invincibility of youth. Life went on as planned with his military career, becoming a nurse, getting married, having kids.
When he was 32, the disease made itself a bit more known when David discovered he had cerebral aneurysms.
“It’s part of the PKD process,” he told me.
But a craniotomy went well and he proceeded through the rest of his 30s and into 40s as normal. He got a master’s degree, toured the globe with his wife, enjoyed his sons.
“We had a perfect life everything was spectacular and then all of a sudden it’s taken away from you.”
It was as he approached 50 that things started changing.
“You start noticing a little bit more that your kidney function is kind of going down a little bit.”
Going down a little bit turned into tumbling downhill at 90 miles per hours. In the span of just a few years, David went from mostly good health to stage three and then stage four renal failure. Once able to travel the world, now he could barely leave his house.
“Doctors appointments, chronic fatigue, sickness, and one thing after another you didn’t know what was going to happen next.”
He was put on the Kidney Transplant Waitlist, but that was hardly a sure thing.
“It’s a sad truth but that’s what it really is because there are so few donors out there.”
According to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), in 2017, 115,000 people were on the waiting list. The number of available donors: 16,473. Adding to that urgency: the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) says only 3 in 1,000 people die in a way that allows for organ donation. That’s why living donors are so critical -- but they are also hard to find.
“It’s almost like going through an interview like you deserve to live. [Laughs a little.] I know it’s kind of an interesting thing, but it’s like why do you deserve a kidney versus this person over here? What are you looking forward to? What quality of life do you expect to have afterwards? What sort of things do you think you’ll be able to accomplish sort of thing?
“I’ve seen it so many times throughout my career. Some people may need a simple blood donation or whatever and it’s just not available.”
So David turned to a very 21st century tactic: social media.
“It took a lot to go out online and present myself as needing a kidney. I’ve been the person who has always helped people. [Voice breaks slightly.] I’ve never asked for help.”
Now think for a moment about someone you knew back in middle school. Not someone from your friend group, just someone you maybe shared a class or two with. A person who outside of Facebook, you haven’t seen or interacted with in 20, 30, 40 years.
This was the angel who stepped up to save David’s life.
“I was accepted on the list in November 2021, and then January 2022 was when I finally started putting things out online. The first place I went to was Facebook, believe it or not. I presented everything. I put my pictures out there. I didn’t know how to write this. I went through and said that I am in need of a kidney. This is the reason why. Kidney disease is in our family. My sister just had a transplant four years prior.
“... One of my friends on Facebook, we went to junior high school together ... we always knew each other but we never really were friends, just friends on Facebook.
“ I presented it [the post] and she said, ‘I’m going to sign up tonight.’ This is literally the day I put it out. I’m just like, ‘Ok, yeah, whatever,’ because a lot of people said that.”
Lots of people are moved to act when they see posts like David’s, but of course, following through is another story. He didn’t get his hopes up too high. And though ultimately, he did get a big response, another challenge in the transplant process is testing these prospective donors to see if they’re even a match.
“Unfortunately, they could only process one person at a time,” he told me.
Several months later, he noticed that old classmate, who lives in Washington state, was posting photos of Denver on Facebook.
“I said, ‘Wow, you’re in Denver, I’m not even 60 miles from there, we should get together.’ And she says, ‘I don’t know how much I’m supposed to tell you or how much you’re supposed to be contacted about this, but I’m actually in Denver to go to the next step to give the donation.’
“And i’m like, ‘Wow. When you told me, I didn’t realize how serious you were.”
She turned out to be a match.
Jodee gave David her kidney on Aug. 26, 2022.
“When you’re in kidney failure, everything takes a shot. Your kidneys, your liver, your heart, your lungs … which gets me to the fascinating part. Once you get a kidney transplant, all that starts going away.”
I asked him how quickly he began noticing that.
How quickly did you feel that?
“Literally the next day. Literally the next day was absolutely phenomenal.”
A year and a month later, David is the man he was before kidney failure.
“I can breathe, I can smell things, I can actually function.”
He went on:
“And that’s why kidney donations or donations in general, organ donation, is so important. I worked in the burn unit; people have no idea the amount of skin that’s needed. ... Just things like that, that people don’t understand. Cornea transplants, liver transplants -- you can be a living donor and donate part of your liver, pancreas for people who are diabetics. That has to be obviously after you pass away, but people don’t understand the importance of being an organ donor itself. So, whoever’s out there looking for a reason -- there’s no better reason. So, donate an organ.”
For Jodee, the experience was life-changing as well.
“I’ve noticed on her Facebook page she’s had a lot of bucket list things since her donation, she’s been out skydiving, she’s been out ballooning; it’s like, ‘has this kind of changed you in that direction?’ and she goes, ‘I don’t know if I can say it was that for sure, but it has definitely given me a lot more perspective on life.’”
So for anyone worried about recovering from giving an organ -- if all goes well, you’ll be jumping out of a plane inside a year!
And for these once casual acquaintances…
“We keep in contact at least a couple of times a week.”
There’s a close friendship.
After all, they now share much more than just a former junior high school.
SOUTHERN COLORADO KIDNEY WALK!
David is taking part in his first-ever Kidney Walk to celebrate one year and one month post-transplant. His team is named Jodee’s Kidney Beans in his donor’s honor.
Now, you don’t have to be a donor or recipient to enjoy the walk!
- Walk is Sunday, Sept. 24 at Memorial Park
- Festivities start at 8:30, walk starts at 10
- You can walk as many or as few laps as you want, or just come out for support!
- Donations are optional, but go towards research, patient services, professional education, public health education, and community services. Kidney disease is more common than many realize, and most people will know someone in their lifetime affected by this disease.
- Click here for more info on the Southern Colorado Kidney Walk!
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