Rich Ostry’s Story

February 2001

This is a story of my wife Cathy, and what transplant means to us. Cathy is very special—she has been on both ends of the transplant story. I hope that sharing our story helps other people.

It all started 13 years ago. Cathy’s brother David needed a kidney transplant. He is a juvenile diabetic and the doctors thought that it was time for his kidney. The whole family was tested to see if they could donate to him, and Cathy matched. She donated a kidney to him at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Back then the medicines were not as good as they are now, moon face and other side effects. The real reason for the transplant wound up being a disease in the family, focalgleumerial nephritis, the same thing as Alonso Morning and Sean Elliott.

Cathy was diagnosed a few years later with the same disease as her brother. We kept it in check for 7 years with diet control. In March 1997 Cathy went into full renal failure. I remember it as it was yesterday, she woke up on Sunday morning and said she wanted to go to the hospital. She was scheduled to see a new doctor later that week, Dr. Ken Miller. He meet us at the hospital and started to bring Cathy back to life. She had her first dialysis that night and spent 6 days in the hospital. Over the next few months she went from hemodialysis to peritoneal dialysis to being hooked up on a night cycler for 9 hours a night. Slowly and surely Cathy got stronger, thanks to Dr. Miller.

We started to look for hospitals to get Cathy on a transplant list, U. of Minnesota, UW Madison and Northwestern U. Dr. Miller did say that there was always a possibility of family members donating to Cathy, and I even asked if I could. When we visited the hospitals, I was tested to see if I was a match for her. The results came back that we matched in blood values and that our bloods were not allergic to each other. With all the new medicines that are available today we did not have to be as closely matched as in the past. We then booked November 13, 1997 for the transplant at Northwestern.

I went through testing to see if all was OK with me and which kidney they would take. We were very lucky with Northwestern, 3 weeks before the transplant they did their first laparoscopic kidney donation. I was a candidate for the new procedure and was their 6th laparoscopic donation. Instead of having a large 10 inch opening, I had a 2 inch opening and 4 small holes (they only needed a band-aid to close them).

The day before the transplant we did all the pre-testing and stayed close to the hospital. There was a small problem with Cathy, she had some fluid in her lungs. That night they were able to remove the fluid and did not have to postpone the operation.

I was taken down to surgery at 6am, surgery started to 7. They kept Cathy informed on how I was doing and took her down a few hours later. When my surgery was finished, my kidney became Cathy’s within a few hours. The surgery went great for both Cathy and me, Cathy was making urine right on the operating table. It is amazing how many tubes are attached to you when you wake up.

Cathy, as do all transplant patients, went on many drugs right away. Instead of a lot of harmful rejection medicines like her brother was on, she was put on a clinical trial of a new rejection medicine. That medicine, cellcept, is much stronger and not toxic to the kidney as the old medicines were.

Because of the laparoscopic surgery, the hospital stay was very short. The surgery was on a Thursday, I came home on Saturday. They don’t keep the recipient in long either now, Cathy came home on Sunday. Those next few weeks we visited the Northwestern clinic about 3 times a week for blood draws to check on Cathy’s values and additional test medicines. It helped staying at Cathy’s mother’s house for a few weeks after, we would get up, drive downtown, see the doctors and drive back. Taking care of someone is not really easy and my healing at the same time did not help. We did go home 2 weeks later.

Cathy did have a rejection attempt but it was caught very early. She was treated at home by a visiting nurse for 2 weeks. After that things have been very good. It has been 3 years since the transplant and both of us are doing very good. The new medicines that are available today are even better than what Cathy is on. They are truly amazing, living donors do not have to match as close as was needed 13 years ago, and the surgical techniques are far better meaning less hospital stay afterwards.

There are some things that I am very thankful for during this whole process.

  • Dr. Miller is a great doctor. He took care of Cathy when she really needed help and still takes very good care of her. He is someone you can talk to on a person-to-person basis.
  • Northwestern University. They did a great job with both of us, especially Dr. Stuart and Dr. Leventhal. The nurses are also great.
  • The new medicines. Each day that goes by the rejection medicines get better with less side effects. There are even better ones on the way.
  • Walt Disney World. When Cathy went into renal failure we already planned a trip to WDW with her sister and niece. We used WDW as a goal to get Cathy well enough to go there just months afterwards. The goal is not just for the patient but the whole family, everyone goes through this together.
  • Family. My Dad and sisters were there with us for it all. Cathy’s Mom and Dad are great, they helped us get from day to day. Carla and Kirsten, the second half of the Fab 4, our family, thank you.
  • For someone to be on both sides of a transplant is pretty special. I know Cathy didn’t even need to be asked to help her brother. I always knew that Cathy was a very strong person but as every day goes by I am awestruck by how she gets stronger every day. She truly is my hero and I love her very much!

I hope this helps.

Rich and Cathy Ostry