A True Christmas Storyposted a minute ago by Mary Runyon-Hanshew
By Lois Westermeyer
Posted Nov 27, 2011 @ 07:52 AM
Fairbury, Ill. —
Generosity and thankfulness are two predominate themes during the holiday season and two Livingston County residents epitomize those characteristics — in ways that have changed and intertwined their lives forever.
Earlier this year, Bryan Aberle of rural Chatsworth became a living donor, giving one of his kidneys to Roger Scherr of rural Fairbury, a man with whom he barely had a nodding acquaintance.
Both men believe it was not only their near-perfect tissue and blood-type match that brought them together, but also God working in their lives. It is the same reason both believe they now have to spread the word about their experience to encourage organ donations, which could save countless other lives.
Their story actually starts about 10 years ago, when Scherr was diagnosed with kidney failure. What led to the failure is still a mystery.
“The doctors at Mayo’s (Medical Clinic at Rochester, Minn.) said I had high-blood pressure,” said Scherr, who had been fit and in good health otherwise. “They don’t know if the high-blood pressure caused the kidney failure or kidney failure caused the high-blood pressure.”
Regardless, he learned he would have to undergo dialysis.
Luckily, his condition would allow treatment through peritoneal dialysis, which required a surgically implanted abdominal port and the input and drainage of fluids that he could do at home.
That type of dialysis required daily multiple treatments and although restrictive, he could carry on with his daily life, which was busy as he farms for a living.
He then was able to use a “cycler machine,” which cycled the fluids at night. He carried on with this routine until his dialysis nurse told him it was time to get on the kidney transplant list.
Rules about transplants are very specific and strictly followed, Scherr said.
“I could tell my family and friends that my kidneys were failing and give them the number for the transplant office in Peoria. But I couldn’t pay someone or even come right out and ask someone to do this.”
Scherr and his wife, Marcia, unfortunately have a small family circle and none were a match, the same with friends who were willing and able to be tested. None got over the first hurdle, matching blood types.
Scherr, who turned 62 in September, knew his age was working against him as well, because transplants are not generally done on recipients who are age 70 or older.
“The average wait is four and half years on the transplant list. That’s just a guideline, though. You could go next day or wait more than four years. We just sort of accepted it would be four years,” he said.
However, demands of the farm couldn’t be put on hold and Scherr just continued on with his work, while his health deteriorated.
Then he made a fateful call in November of 2010 — not to the transplant office, but to a nearby neighbor and fellow farmer, Marvin Dotterer, to have a load of rock delivered to his home.
Dotterer sent his employee, Aberle, to deliver the rock.
“Working at the farm, I had seen Roger probably twice a year. I knew him to say, ‘Hi,’ but not much beyond that. When I went over that day I was shocked by his appearance. I had heard he needed a kidney, but…” he let his voice trail.
Aberle said he began praying that Scherr would get a kidney and wishing there was some way to help him, but not believing there was anything he could do personally. Eventually, though, he felt that it wasn’t just enough to pray, but that he needed to try and donate his own kidney.
Once reaching that decision, the next step was to talk to his wife, Lisa.
“I was surprised and not surprised,” she said. “I was surprised because he doesn’t like to even get his blood drawn, he gets a little squeamish. But I also was not surprised, because he’s a thoughtful and generous person. It didn’t surprise me that he wanted to help someone.”
Aberle, 29, pointed out that when he and his wife were married, she was on the organ donor list and he was not.
He even tried to talk her out of being on the list. However, he came around to her way of thinking, saying, “Obviously there’s a lot of good that can be done after someone dies.”
Even more people could be helped if there were more living donors and so he set about to start the process.
He did not want to contact the Scherrs at first, not wanting to raise their hopes in any way. But a visit to his own physician provided him with no answers on where to go for transplant testing.
“That’s one of the things we’re hoping to change,” chimed in Marcia Scherr. “We’re putting together packets of information about organ donation and we hope to provide them to area doctor’s offices.”
At the time, Aberle was forced to contact the Scherrs to find out how to go about testing.
His reaction to Aberle’s phone call was total surprise.
“It was …” Scherr struggles for words to describe his feelings, “I mean this young person steps up and says he wants to give you part of his body. It’s hard to express what I felt.”
Roger Scherr has blood type A and his donor needed to have A or the universal type O.
Aberle found out he was type O and made it past the first hurdle. There would be many others, including matching antigens. A perfect match is six points; Aberle and Scherr had a five-point match, very rare for two unrelated people.
The final hurdle would be to make sure Aberle had two kidneys and that he was psychologically ready to be a living donor. He passed those tests as well.
With hardly time to catch his breath, the initial transplant operation was set for February of this year.
However, prior to the big day Scherr went in for a final test and was informed that doctors believed he was not medically stable and the transplant would have to be delayed.
It caused hardship and anxiety on both sides.
“ I was told the surgery could be postponed for three months or two years. I think I would have waited it out, but two years is a long time,” Aberle said. “My wife and I are planning to adopt soon and children entering the picture might change things. Plus, we had all the results back and I knew what a good match it was,” he said.
But even delay may have been God working, Scherr said.
“I was sick in February, but by July I felt a lot better, I think my health was much better,” Scherr said. Further testing found there was nothing really wrong in February. But in July I felt better, stronger and we didn’t have to deal with the issues of bad weather.”
“It was better in July for myself as well,” Aberle added. “I started my testing in early December and by Feb. 7 there would be surgery. It all went so quickly. I think I needed some time. I was a lot more ready for when the call came.”
They got the call and surgery was on for July. Three medical centers perform transplants in Illinois — Chicago, St. Louis and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, which is where the two men underwent surgery on July 18. Everything was covered by Scherr’s insurance.
They went into surgery with the prayers of their families, friends and respective church families, First United Methodist Church for the Scherrs and Forrest Apostolic Christian Church for the Aberles.
Aberle’s surgery was finished first and when he came to, he asked the nurse how Scherr was doing and whether the transplant was successful.
“None of us had a dry eye in the waiting room because we heard you ask about Roger first thing,” Marcia Scherr recalled.
Scherr was doing very well. His new kidney started working right away, much to the relief of everyone.
To keep it working, Scherr takes two anti-rejection medications that will be required the rest of his life. He has to drink 80 ounces of water a day, which causes that new kidney to work, often, but it beats the alternative, Scherr laughed.
“After everything, I believe that God had to have a hand in this someplace, Scherr said. “A friend told me, ‘This was planned from the very beginning for Bryan and I,’” Scherr added.
“I think it was planned from the beginning,” Bryan Aberle added.
“I think God wants us to be able to help other people. Sometimes it’s in donating time, money, but sometimes it’s doing something different,” said Lisa Aberle, who kept a journal of their experiences. “We just feel you need to be listening to what God asks you to do. One of the reasons we’re here is to help other people.”
Of course, their families have been brought close together through this and they check in with each other once or twice a week, sometimes more, Scherr said.
“Bryan’s mother had a picnic for everyone at North Park Labor Day weekend,” Marcia Scherr added. “There were more than 50 there. Next year it will be our turn to host something, sometime around the one-anniversary date,” she said.
“To tell the truth, I thought I was feeling OK on dialysis. But after this transplant, I realized I really wasn’t. Dialysis takes everything out of your system, not only toxins, but magnesium and potassium which your body needs. I realized I was tired all the time, because it saps your strength. So it’s nice now to take off and go someplace and not have to worry about that treatment.
It gives you your freedom back and that has made such a difference.”
“It’s confirmation that God does work through ordinary people,” said Lisa Aberle.
Scherr said his focus now is taking care of his new kidney.
“At first, every time I bent over or did something like that I worried I was hurting the kidney. But I was told to just go about normal routine. So I’ve done everything, taken my medicine, everything to ensure it doesn’t fail. It’s a tremendous gift that Bryan has given me and I can’t screw it up.”
Although it is unlikely Aberle will have trouble with his one remaining kidney, if something were to happen, he would go to the top of the transplant list.
Both men were able to talk to people who shared their experience, as donors and donees. Both said those talks were beneficial and they would be willing to talk to others in these circumstances.
“I question everyone on whether they have a donor card signed. One person can help 25 people. That’s a real gift,” Scherr said. “I just want to tell people it’s possible to be a living donor or a deceased donor and that it does work out.”
“I try and encourage people, too,” Aberle said. “I never had anyone try and tell me not to do it.”
“When you need something like that, you can’t buy it, you can’t make it. You have to rely on a donor,” Aberle said. “It was worth it, seeing someone go from bad health to good. I’d do it again if I could.”