Northwest NEWS

October 18, 1999

Features

Precious gift is a new lease on life for Kingsgate man

Joan & Andy Pierce Nancy & Roger Barr
Joan and Andy Pierce. Nancy and Roger Barr.

by Deborah Stone, features writer

   When Andrew Pierce was five, he had strep throat. He was given medication and the infection went away after awhile, as it does in most people.

   Forty years later, Pierce's kidneys suddenly shut down and he was immediately put on dialysis. The cause of his kidney failure was traced to the childhood case of strep, which had led to a secondary infection in his kidneys. Over the years, scar tissue built up, and eventually his kidneys were unable to function.

   "It was a total shock to learn that this had happened to me," says the Kingsgate-area man. "I was misdiagnosed for six months because the doctors thought I had a very resistant sinus infection, as I was having problems with my sinuses that weren't responding to the medication. An hour after I was correctly diagnosed, I was being prepared for dialysis treatment. It was such a shock!"

   For the next five years, Pierce went for dialysis three times a week, spending four to five hours each time hooked up to a machine that helped do the job of his kidneys. He had to take medical retirement from his job as an air conditioning engineer because he was unable to effectively do his work.

   "Being on dialysis, of course, saved my life," comments Pierce, "but it was like I had no energy, like I was in a fog most of the time. I was always tired and I lost my mental sharpness. I looked pale, felt bad, and did not have a good outlook on life."

   He had been on the donor list for five years, and although there had been several people who had stepped forward, offering to be donors, no one had been able to fulfill the necessary requirements for a good match. Much support was offered through Bear Creek United Methodist Church, where Pierce is a Lay Leader, and announcements of his need for a donor were made in the church bulletin.

   Enter Nancy Barr, wife of Roger Barr, pastor of Bear Creek United Methodist Church. The Barrs had moved to the Woodinville area two years ago from Sequim and became aware of Pierce's condition in their association with him through the church.

   Nancy knew she had the same blood type as Pierce and saw a need that she could hopefully fulfill. Six years ago, her husband Roger had a kidney removed, and she had checked her blood type to see if she could be a possible donor to him, if needed. Although this did not prove to be the case, the information she learned would prove to be useful later on when she met Pierce.

   "I have always been a believer in organ donation," says Barr. "My parents were strong believers in this, and when they died, they wanted to donate their organs to help others. I saw a need and the opportunity arose for me to help, and I thought about it, prayed on it, and decided to take the first step in the screening process. The decision itself was not difficult for me, as I felt the risks were minimal and I knew that a person only needs a half a kidney to function. I had two, and I didn't need both of them."

   Barr underwent many different tests and interviews at Swedish Medical Center's Organ Transplant Program in Seattle. The process went quickly for her and within three weeks, she was given a good bill of health and found to be a suitable match for Pierce.

   On June 21, Barr and Pierce went in to have the surgery and the procedure was a success. Six weeks later, she was completely recovered and off on a camping trip with her family.

   Pierce received the kidney and his body accepted it (with the exception of one rejection episode which was arrested), allowing him to live dialysis-free for the first time in five years.

   "It's amazing how good I feel," says Pierce. "I feel so much more energetic, my color is better, and my outlook on life is more optimistic. I feel like I have awakened from a deep sleep and I now have a new lease on life."

   Pierce will continue to take anti-rejection medication three times a day for the rest of his life and have his blood levels monitored, but feels this is an easy price to pay for having a new kidney.

   He is eternally grateful to Barr for her gift and feels there will always be a special bond between them. He says, "Nothing in my experience ever prepared me for this. It's an amazing feeling to receive a gift like the one Nancy gave me. It has overwhelmed me. She is an incredibly special woman."

   As for Barr, she feels happy she could help and hopes that her story will encourage others to think about becoming kidney donors, especially now with the new methods of surgery which have just a two-week recovery period.

   "I am happy to share my experience with others, but I only talk about it to gain awareness of the need that's out there," explains Barr. "I have seen face-to-face how Andy has changed, and I know there is a long list of people like him who are waiting for a suitable donor to be found. The need is great."

   The two friends have moved on in their lives: Barr is back to her job as teacher with the Riverview School District and Pierce is a man who is no longer afraid of making future plans.