|My budding bud, Wayne: Sox and Tigers fans, united by kidneys!|
Meet Wayne Meyer II (says Jimmy McFarlin III), baseball coach for small-town Le Roy Junior/Senior High School ("Home of the Panthers") about a half-hour drive from where I live. Now, if Wayne was only a baseball coach and former player, that surely would be enough to curry my excitement: as anyone who knows me will attest, I am an absolute geekazoid when it comes to America's (First, Last and Always) Pastime. For my birthday in June, the only present I really asked for – and received, thankfully – was the commemorative bobblehead of Detroit Tigers righthander Michael Fulmer, the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year.
What does that say about me?
Anyway, I feel pretty confident that Wayne and I will have a lot to talk about going forward, which is important after the getting-to-know-you period has subsided. But here's the kicker: this tall, extremely healthy-looking man is, like me, a kidney transplant recipient!
Small (Wayne's) World, ain't it?
He and I met in the usual way: standing in line for tests at a hospital laboratory office. I was in line behind Wayne, and regardless of what all those signs say about patient privacy and HIPAA regulations, you cannot possibly whisper softly enough at the check-in desk to avoid being overheard by everyone in a small waiting room.
He answered all the same medical questions I have been asked at that desk at least once a month for the last six years. I was so familiar with them, I knew the basics of Wayne's condition before he ever turned around to face me.
"How long ago was your transplant?" I asked him.
Came to find out he was a "newbie." He underwent successful transplant surgery on Dec. 3, 2016, and, like I did the first year or so, has to come to the hospital every week for blood tests. The transplant team wants to make sure your foreign "tenant" is making itself comfortable in its new home. For Wayne, that means making the 70-mile round trip from Le Roy every seven days.
I learned that not only do we share the same local nephrologist, the wise and compassionate Dr. Abdel-Moneim Attia, but we had our surgeries at the same hospital, Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis. We were like renal relatives! Kidney cousins! Since our lab schedules were certain to dovetail, I invited him out to coffee at some later date. To my great delight, he accepted.
|My favorite birthday gift. Is something wrong with me?|
Weeks later, at an Einstein Bagels restaurant in the shadow of the hospital, Wayne and I got better acquainted. It's fascinating to me how many different ways people come to the point of needing a kidney transplant. In his case, he was actually born with only one kidney!
Wayne said he was never made aware of it – and since he was a young, healthy, athletic fellow, who would think to look? – until his overworked organ began wearing out. "I had the kidney of a 90-year-old man," he told me.
In 2015, Old Man Kidney decided it had labored long enough. "I started feeling sick," he recalls. "I powered through the end of the school year, and the baseball season, of course, but my feet started to swell. My energy went way down." By the time his wife, Victoria, finally convinced him to go to the hospital, "I was struggling," he admits. "I needed to know what was going on, but I was scared to find out."
Not only did Attia calm and encourage him, but he also made a prediction. "Dr. Attia said from the get-go, 'a year and a half, two years,'" until he received a transplant, Wayne says, "but everything from Barnes-Jewish said it was going to be at least a three- to four-year wait. But Dr. Attia knew what he was doing. He called it from the first time he met me when I was hospitalized."
Wayne spent that year-and-a-half wait on peritoneal dialysis – just like me! – and dialyzed at home with his wife's valiant assistance. "The quality of life did not change much at all," he says. "That's what made the transition so much easier."
Beyond the steadfast support of Victoria and their two sons, Trey and Colin, the outpouring of concern and care from his tiny town was overwhelming, he says. Clearly, LeRoy adores its high school baseball coach and his family.
"Some guys at school organized fundraisers to help cover medical expenses," Wayne says. "It seemed like everybody knew about it. I still get people from around town, even other towns, asking me how I'm doing. People who I had no idea knew anything."
And how is he doing? "I feel great," he beams. "Never had a sick day because of it. My energy level is great, though I'm not in shape like I used to be."
None of us are, Coach. Although I'll bet his superior conditioning played a big part in his recovery and present state of health.
His health and happiness come tinged with just a touch of regret, however. Wayne doesn't know who his kidney donor was, but "I do know the kidney was supposed to go to a family member, and for whatever reason it didn't work out," he says. "It's an odd feeling, knowing that it was designated for someone within the donor's family and I ended up getting it. It's kind of a touchy situation. It's one of those cases where you're excited, but you still feel bad."
Of course, we also talked a lot of baseball. He is a Chicago White Sox fan, but he's such a nice guy that I'm willing to forgive that misguided life decision.
Wayne has invited me to speak to his English class, which will happen in the very near future. I'm so excited! I love talking to young people about the power and passion words can carry, and the remarkable career opportunities I've enjoyed from being able to write good.
Uh, well, I mean. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.)
I think the hardest part will be not spending the entire class time talking about our transplants. For both Mr. Meyer and me, it's been an education.