When Jerry and Janine Lane started dating and got married almost 37 years ago, they knew they were well-matched.
The two longtime Yumans just didn’t realize how close that match was until Jerry started having kidney problems and would eventually need a new one.
With odds that the two would be a match standing at about 1 in 100,000 Jerry estimated, Janine would go on to save her husband’s life by donating him one of her healthy kidneys.
“Wow, how could (we) be such a perfect match?” Jerry said.
“She stole my heart, so she owed me a kidney,” Jerry joked during an interview with the Yuma Sun.
That word, “match,” is the key to finding a kidney, or any other organ. According to the Mayo Clinic, several tests are done to see if a donor may be able to donate a kidney to a certain person. Things that need to “line up,” or match, typically include blood type, tissue type (also known as HLA) and crossmatch.
When Jerry first went on dialysis, he put the word out that he was seeking a live donor for a kidney.
“I had friends and people who were saying, ‘Yeah.’ They wanted to step up. They wanted to do that, but there's a process they have to go through.”
The testing takes about five days, Jerry said, and only one person can do it at a time. Janine had expressed an interest in going through the testing, but Jerry balked.
“During this whole process I kept saying, ‘Well, why don't I become tested? Why don't I be tested?’,” Janine said, “but we had discussed me being his caregiver, because the Mayo won't do it unless you have a caregiver for five or six weeks afterward, and I was going to be his caregiver. He kept saying, "No, no, no, because you're going to be my caregiver.’”
“I'm like, ‘What about if we find somebody else to be your caregiver?’ Then, he got to thinking. He asked his brother, and his brother said, ‘Yes.’ It took me two months to talk him into it.”
Janine’s test took about 10 days. She matched, but she had to undergo more extensive testing.
“They want to make sure that you have two viable kidneys, because if you're going to give one up, you better have a good one left,” she said.
The waiting for the results had everyone keyed up.
“Each time I got the phone call I would be like, ‘OK, what are you going to tell me?’”
“It was so amazing getting the calls too,” Jerry said. “We were both just so excited.”
“Then the second time, they said, ‘Yeah, you're physically able to ... You're healthy enough. You can give a kidney.’ I'm like, ‘OK, when?’” Janine recalled.
The date for the surgery was set for June 2, and the couple was able to have their son and Jerry’s brother serve as their caregivers.
That Tuesday was a new day for Jerry. The surgery was a success, and Janine’s kidney started working for Jerry right away.
“I was able to get up and walk in no time,” Jerry said. “I mean hours. The next day, I walked across the hospital to her room to say thank you.
“My labs went from down in the toilet basically up to... I'm a healthy person.” Jerry said. “She's got great spare parts.”
But some people aren’t so lucky.
“There was a gentleman who had had his surgery on a Monday,” Janine recalled, “and on a Friday he was still on dialysis. They were still waiting for his kidney to start working.”
That’s one of the reasons why the Lanes feel so strongly about live organ donation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 million American adults, about one in 10, have some level of chronic kidney disease.
At the end of 2009, more than 871,000 people were being treated for end-stage renal failure, according to statistics from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
“There are over 100,000 people waiting for kidneys,” Jerry said. “Many of them are waiting for years, and years, and years- four years, five years, eight years. Some are never getting one for whatever reason. They pass away, because they didn't get a kidney in time."
Jerry was one of the lucky few.
The National Kidney Foundation estimates that 12 people die everyday waiting for a kidney, and the average wait for a kidney is 3.6 years.
But that sobering statistic doesn’t need to be the end of the story, Jerry says, if more people would sign their organ donation cards, or consider becoming live donors.
“Most people don't have that thing on the driver's license -- ‘I'm an organ donor’.”
In 2014, 17,105 kidney transplants took place in the U.S. Of these, 11,570 came from deceased donors and 5,535 came from living donors, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, a national clearinghouse that tracks transplants of organs and other tissue.
“Live donorship is so amazing. They figure, instead of four years, it takes about 18 months to find a live donor that will match,” Jerry said. That time frame is from the start of the process to the schedule/start of a transplant.
“I call live donors silent heroes, because you don't really hear a lot about them. I've been lucky enough to meet a few of them here, locally. People just don't know they've done it. Nobody really talks about it that much, which is such an amazing thing.”
To learn more about kidney donation, check out www.kidney.org or call the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale/Phoenix at 480-301-8000. To register as an organ donor in Arizona go to www.donatelifeaz.org/. A Google search will reveal other treatment programs.
“I would only say that it's a chance to be a hero, to give somebody life. Do it while you're here. There are so many people who are in need of all ages ... just sitting there waiting,” Jerry said.
“It's a chance to really help somebody out and give them a second chance at enjoying life.”