Transplant recipient recalls dialysis
Living with kidney failure has taught Virgil Yeahquo one thing.
"You learn to appreciate life," he said of his three-year journey into renal dialysis and organ transplants.
Yeahquo, 65, the recipient of a kidney transplant eight months ago, now is doing fine.
"It's going like a champ," he said of his new kidney.
The Linwood man's pill count is down from 87 a day after his transplant to only 50 a day now.
Once again, he's able to eat dinner in restaurants.
He sips from a tall glass of ice water and takes a second refill of his cup of decaf. A year ago, indulging in this much liquid could have sent him to a hospital.
But today, Yeahquo is back to a normal diet and back to a more normal way of living.
He remembers the day he learned he would have to go on hemodialysis.
It was January 1997. He had retired three weeks earlier, having served as chaplain at the Lansing Correctional Facility from 1982 to 1996.
He had already had his pancreas removed. When he showed up for a doctor's appointment, there were several physicians in the room.
"I felt good then like I do now," Yeahquo said. "I felt good like you do now, like most people feel now.
"And they said 'You've got two and a half weeks to live.'"
His creatinine level was 11.
"It shouldn't have been more than two," Yeahquo said. "Usually, a creatinine count of nine is fatal."
He remembers gazing out of the window of the Veterans Administration hospital in Kansas City, Mo., on that cloudy day. Nearby, he saw the gold roof of the Mormon tabernacle, and he watched as a sudden burst of sunlight illuminated the building's gold roof.
"That's when inside of me that unspeakable voice said, 'Remember, I'm coming back soon hang on,'" Yeahquo said. "I decided then that I wanted to fight this as best as I could with what I had."
And so he began hemodialysis, a procedure in which a person's blood is transported out of the body into a machine that removes toxins and excess fluids. During dialysis, the blood is continually circulated in and out of the body until the dialysis session ends, which in Yeahquo's case meant about four hours.
There were things he didn't expect.
"Nobody ever told me about the low blood pressure I would have after a dialysis session," Yeahquo said.
"Nobody ever told me how many times I'd pass out.
"Nobody ever told me my shunt would shut down.
"Nobody ever told me this would be a four- to- five hour experience.
"Nobody ever told me it is such a critical thing to keep my chemicals in balance.
He learned that if he wanted to live, dialysis was not an option.
"Without it, you can last maybe two days," Yeahquo said.
The families of dialysis patients get involved in the process. Yeahquo glanced at his wife, Sharon.
"I didn't marry her to be dragging her through this," he said.
Sharon Yeahquo would drive her husband to work, and leave work later to pick up her husband to take him home, and then would return to her job.
There were times it might've seemed smarter to have spent the day at home, he said.
"The sun isn't even shining and it's sleeting and snowing, and you're going on down the road," Yeahquo said.
Families, dialysis staff and other families soon become friends, Yeahquo said. And dialysis isn't something reserved for people his age. At the dialysis clinic at Lawrence Memorial Hospital where he was treated, there were patients of all ages.
"You see some very young children and you have about as many college kids and high school kids as you do elderly people," Yeahquo said.
A year after going on dialysis, he went on the transplant list. Finally, last summer, he received his new kidney.
Now today, Yeahquo looks back on his time on dialysis, as many transplant patients probably do, in wonder.
"I don't envy nobody on dialysis," he said. "Especially those who've had high blood pressure and diabetes it's going to attack the eyesight, it's going to attack the heart, it's going to attack the extremities you'll lose them."
Indeed, it's not uncommon, Yeahquo said, for diabetics who are on dialysis to have amputations of their extremities.
When on dialysis, diet is more important than ever. There are many foods dialysis patients aren't supposed to eat. But that's all a part of the game, Yeahquo said.
"You learn you can do without food you discipline yourself not to eat."
Yeahquo, who has been feeling better since the transplant, now preaches two Sundays a month at the Sullivan Memorial Chapel in Topeka. This is a Native American church, he said.
A member of the Kiowa tribe and a graduate of Haskell Indian Nations University, Yeahquo said those of his heritage are prone to diabetes and kidney failure. He lists the names of about a half-dozen relatives who are on hemodialysis.
But it is this, his Native American heritage, that has helped him survive the ordeal.
"I have respect for everything in creation and I have a sense of humor. In the midst of all of this I have had to rely on this humor to pull me through, to help guide me," he said.
He looks at his wife.
"If I hadn't had a sense of humor, especially in the beginning, it would have torn us apart," he said.
Sharon Yeahquo said the kindness of friends also meant a lot.
"You learn to appreciate friends," she said. "Whenever we felt down, there was always a card or a call from a friend."
All in all, the experience has been wearing, but also enlightening, Virgil Yeahquo said. He now has a greater appreciation for just living, for simple things such as hearing the birds sing.
"Every day that you wake up, you wake up," Yeahquo said.
"Every day you don't know if you will live to see the sun go down or not.
"If it does, you've made another day."