Archive for Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Basehor man pins hopes on kidney transplant

April 20, 2005

It's a quarter after three Monday afternoon and the bright sun can't penetrate the shade covering the white house with black shutters on Parallel Road in Basehor. An easy wind blows from the west and the mixture of cool shadows and lukewarm air provide an environment ripe for spring activity.

John Ross, 61, formerly of Bonner Springs and a Basehor resident for the last 10 years, would rather be outside toiling in his backyard, or maybe in his garage, building model cars and airplanes. Instead, Ross, a round man with large, kind eyes, is slumped on his living room couch.

His head perks up slightly and a small smile emerges from the corners of his mouth when a stranger walks through the front door of his home, but Ross doesn't move from his seat. On a normal day, he'd stand and greet the guest with a firm handshake, but today isn't one of those days.

On a day like today it takes a yeoman's effort to complete a simple task such as rising.

"I would stand up, but ..." Ross says, his voice trailing off into the distance, a thought ended and evaporated before it ever really began. "It's a little difficult right now. I just can't do it."

In lieu, he extends his right arm, the one not covered in hospital bandages, and completes the introduction by shaking hands.

Today is one of the bad days for Ross. His condition indicates as much: he's weak and dizzy. His skin is pale. His eyes, normally vibrant, are sagging with a look of defeat. He has trouble stringing together thoughts.

His personal hell

It's understandable. Earlier today, he spent three hours and 45 minutes in his own personal hell.

Three days a week, Ross, a diabetic, visits Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., for dialysis treatments. The process "washes his blood" because neither of his two kidneys can do it for him. Repeated rounds of treatments have drained Ross, severely damaging the nerves in his fingers, given him two heart attacks and generally caused him to "hurt all over."

He hates the treatments, still he goes back. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday he returns to the hospital for the near four-hour bouts with pain and misery. He has to keep going, Ross does, and this fact he knows all too well. The treatments are his lifeboat, a necessary evil keeping him afloat through unstable waters, but one that he must bear a while longer and which someday might land him on safer ground.

"You really don't know from one day to the next whether you're going to survive or not," Ross said. "If I don't do it, I won't survive two weeks. What I really need is a transplant."

It came suddenly, the news that changed Ross' life. Two years ago, Ross was home alone when, as he said, his "kidney's just gave out." Telephone calls from his wife, Linda, who was at work, went unanswered. She thought something might be wrong and her assumption proved correct -- grandson Michael, a junior at Basehor-Linwood High School, found his grandfather lying unconscious on the living room floor.

Michael called 911 and paramedics rushed Ross to the hospital. There, doctors found Ross' kidneys were functioning at only 15 percent capacity. They told him he would need to begin dialysis in the next two to three months. The problem was worse than they anticipated -- a week later doctors told Ross he had to begin treatments right away.

Since then Ross has been working toward completing the required medical examinations to qualify for a transplant. Once he qualifies, and Ross said doctors have told him he will be eligible, it will take 12 to 18 months before the operation .

Until that day, he must remain on dialysis. It's a prospect much easier to fathom today than it once was.

A turning point

On a grim day two years ago, a day Ross doesn't care to remember, he considered ending the dialysis treatments.

After deep soul-searching, Ross found the answer he was looking for in the eyes of his 3-year-old grandson, Robert. The boy adores his grandfather. The feeling is mutual for Ross. The feeling is mutual for Ross to all three grandchildren he and Linda have adopted and raise as their own.

Ross said it was the thought of not seeing them grow up that destroyed any impulse to cease treatments. The prospect of Linda, Ross' soul mate for 42 years, raising the grandkids on her own was a frightening one. He didn't want to leave her. He didn't want to leave any of them.

"I really dread (the treatments)," Ross said. "It's hard to cope with. I'm not a very happy person anymore. I have to keep doing it, though. I absolutely have to keep doing it.

"I hate going, but I know I have to. I have to get it done for them."

It's costly to grow sick in the winter of one's life in America, a concept that isn't lost on the Ross family.

Health insurance will cover the cost of the transplant -- an estimated $260,000 procedure -- but almost nothing else.

Expenses such the $8,500 a year for medicine to ensure Ross' body won't reject his new kidney and from traveling repeatedly back and forth to the hospital for checkups may not seem like much to some, but it's a concern for the Ross family.

Times have gotten difficult for them since Ross took ill. Because of his illness and the dialysis treatments required to sustain kidney function, Ross had to quit work as a maintenance man at Kaw Valley Juvenile Home. He receives disability benefits. Linda maintains her job at a nursing home in Bonner Springs.

Their income gets them by, but trying to balance the medical expenses while maintaining care for the three grandchildren is a tough act at times.

The couple are honest, hardworking people. They love their family immensely and tenderly refer to their three grandchildren as "our kids." The kids don't get everything they want, but they don't go without, either.

Community help

In May, a golf tournament will take place at Oak Country Golf Course in De Soto. Proceeds from the event will go toward Ross and his family. The money will help pay for expenses leading up to and following Ross' kidney transplant.

Ross, a proud man, is grateful for the support he's receiving, but at first didn't like the idea of others helping him.

However, after witnessing his family struggle, he shucked pride aside.

He hopes to attend the golf tournament. He wants to meet and thank the people who've come out to help him and his family. Tournament organizers were good enough to schedule the event for a Saturday -- a good day -- so it's likely Ross will be there.

The day after a treatment, life is better for Ross and, as scripture says, joy cometh in the morning.

He is well-rested and more alert. Color has returned to his face. He's shaken off the malaise from dialysis and his eyes are once again awake with life.

This time, he's able to stand and shake hands. The action takes effort, but it occurs nonetheless.

"Can you tell the difference?" he says. "I'm better today. The second day I always feel all right."

Doctors have told Ross he can live 10 years or more with a kidney transplant. In that regard, the treatments are a means to an end.

It's a proposition he craves for himself and his family.

"I'd be happy for that," Ross says. "The kids would be all grown up.

"No more dialysis? Yeah, I think life turns about 100 percent. I'd be able to go places and do what I want to do. I'd be able to do things with the kids again.

"Because right now," Ross says with a touch of sadness in his voice and the next day's treatment looming, "I just can't."

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