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Beacon Senior News

Can you spare a kidney?

Apr 04, 2022 03:28PM ● By Jan Weeks

Curtis Swift has helped thousands of gardeners in his career as the CSU Horticultural Extension agent, training thousands of master gardeners and treating plant problems throughout the state. Now Swift needs help of a very specific kind: a kidney. 

Swift, a 76-year-old Vietnam veteran, was told he would need a kidney transplant or to go on dialysis for the rest of his life. Now he’s in the first stage of kidney failure. Because his kidneys don’t work, other organs can be poisoned. 

“Without a transplant the prognosis isn’t good,” Swift explained. “Failure is anything below 15. I’m at 10. My thinking has gotten foggy, I have problems reasoning, and making decisions is sometimes difficult. I love pizza, but tomatoes, cheese and a lot of other foods are off limits.”

Swift is on the transplant list at the VA Hospital in Portland, Oregon. However, COVID-19 has impacted transplants and staffing. 

Donations from relatives are best if they meet the criteria. So when Swift’s need became urgent, his son, Garrett, offered to give his dad one of his kidneys. 

“If I could extend my father’s life, it would be worth it to go through the discomfort and lose a kidney,” he said. 

Unfortunately, the hospital's transplant center will only consider one potential donor at a time, and the process can take six to nine months. 

"Patience is one thing I’ve learned along this journey,” said Swift. “It takes time to go through the process to find and replace a failing part.”

Even with one kidney, donors in excellent health (a requirement for such transplants) still have about 75-80 percent capacity to filter their own blood. Living donations don’t change life expectancy, according to the National Kidney Foundation, and it doesn’t appear to increase the risk of kidney failure. But if a donor needs a kidney later in life, they jump to the top of the list for a transplant. 

Vernann Raney, 59, of Grand Junction, knows the dangers and joys of saving another’s life. When her younger sister, Laura, began to experience nausea, confusion and tiredness at age 40, she went to her doctor. A genetic disorder kept her lungs and liver from working in tandem, and she would eventually need a new liver.  

“I donate blood regularly and knew that I was A positive—the same as Laura,” said Raney, a School District 51 educator. “If I could extend her life I would do it in a heartbeat!” 

Since the liver regenerates itself, she would lose only part of her liver to save Laura.

Every moment counts

In May 2018, Raney began a round of blood tests, psychological tests, x-rays, CT scans and mammograms. She was a match. The sisters were given separate surgery teams for surgery scheduled in December. But within a month or two, Raney received a message from Laura that said: Can you be here in two weeks? 

A cadaver liver donation had fallen through and Laura needed a liver right away. So Raney headed for the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. 

On July 12, 2018, the sisters went into separate surgeries. Raney returned to work in September. She has only a large scar, and has returned to skiing, hiking, swimming and having an occasional cocktail. 

“I’m enjoying life fully—with my sister!” said Raney. 

Laura spent three years getting her blood levels to a point that she could go back to work, and will always have to take anti-rejection medicine.  

Rib City Grill owner Mike Spradlin is another walking miracle after receiving a double lung transplant in April 2021. 

About a year earlier, Spradlin went to the doctor because he was short of breath and had knee trouble. His orthopedist recommended a CT scan to look for blood clots. The results showed massive lung damage. A double lung transplant was his only hope of survival. 

Within a month, Spradlin was on oxygen 24 hours a day. 

“A couple of times I came close to running out. Not being able to breathe was the scariest thing that ever happened to me,” he said. 

Two weeks of intensive testing showed a transplant was possible, Spradlin and his wife, Sara Martz, chose St. Joseph’s Norton Transplant Center in Phoenix, which required registering with the Donor Network of Arizona and establishing Arizona residency within three hours of the hospital. They went back and forth between Colorado and Arizona. Then on April 29, 2021, the call came. 

Recovered but not cured

Spradlin went into surgery at 7:15 a.m. and was back in ICU by noon. Physical and occupational therapy began the next day and by the second day, he was walking. 

Martz was stunned by his recovery. 

“Less than 48 hours after surgery, they removed his ventilator. He had full use of his vocal cords, and was able to eat immediately,” she remarked.

Spradlin was discharged from the hospital in one week. Five weeks later, he was home in Colorado. 

The doctors warned him that he isn’t cured. He must call the transplant coordinator immediately at the first sign of a sniffle, a stomach ache, or anything other than healthy and normal. 

“I’ll know the transplant team rest of my life,” said Spradlin. “I used key lime pie from the restaurant to get preferential treatment, and it’s working great so far!”

Spradlin stressed the importance of honoring your caretaker, which in his case is his wife.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he explained. “They go through the same emotional things patients do. They worry for you, themselves and the family.”

Living donation

is an incredible way you can help save the life of someone waiting for an organ transplant. Through living donation, a living person can donate a kidney or part of the liver, lung, intestine or pancreas to another person in need of a transplant.
Learn more about becoming an organ donor at or call 303-329-4747.

Donate to Curtis

Although the hospital will only consider one organ donor at a time, you can make a monetary donation to help Swift with expenses related to finding and receiving a kidney, and to aid during his recovery.

Donate to or stop by or mail a check to Mesa Lavender Farms, 545 North Ave., Suite A, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

Mike’s Breath-Day Golf Tournament

To celebrate the first anniversary of his transplant, Spradlin will play in a charity golf tournament to benefit lung transplant recipients and research at Fruita's Adobe Creek Golf Course on April 30. 

To participate or sponsor, email [email protected] or call Martz at 970-985-0061. (See back cover for details)