Pratt city policeman's life is changed forever by organ donation.
Oct. 14 is a date James Sheldon will always remember. It was the day he felt good for the first time in 20 years. On that day, Sheldon received a kidney transplant and his life changed forever.
"Symptoms I've had for 20 years were gone the day I got my kidney," Sheldon said.
While Sheldon has had health issues for 20 years, he was just diagnosed with a polycystic kidney two and a half years ago. The ailment runs in his family. His grandmother, two aunts and one uncle all died from the disease.
Sheldon received his new kidney from a living donor at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. Finding the donor was nothing short of a miracle.
Sheldon, who is on the Pratt Police force, was in a kidney chain, one of 30 at the medical center, and his chain was extraordinary. His wife Beth tried to donate her kidney but it wasn't a match. A woman named Cara decided she wanted to donate a kidney and went through the living donor program at the KU Med Center.
A little boy, Wiley, was born with two bad kidneys and had been on a feeding tube all his life. Doctors struggled to keep him alive long enough to get a kidney.
A man named Mark West wanted to donate a kidney to Wiley but was not a match. That's where Cara stepped in and her kidney was a perfect match for Wiley. Then West found out his kidney was a perfect match for Sheldon.
"Everything was orchestrated by a higher power," Beth said. "I now know there was a reason I couldn't donate to him."
Children's Mercy Hospital worked with the KU Med Center to make the transplant happen.
Like Sheldon, West is a police officer and he is with the Liberal Police Department. Wiley's parents are both officers on the Liberal Police Department.
While these people didn't know each other at first, they all share a common bond now. They all got together on Oct. 31 and their friendship continues to grow. They plan on doing other activities together. T-shirts for the group carries a message of hope for everyone: In this family, no one fights alone.
"I hugged everybody. I cried, I was pretty emotional," said Sheldon about the meeting.
Since the surgery, Sheldon is on anti rejection medication and his immune system is low. He is on a couple of other medications but eventually he will get off those and get his immune system built up so he can go back to work.
Like Sheldon, Wiley's improvement has been amazing. The first time he smelled food after his transplant, he wanted to eat food, something he had not done for most of his life. Wiley, who is 3, has an excellent appetite, Sheldon said.
There is another surgery ahead for Sheldon. He still has his original kidney. It will never stop growing so it will have to be removed. But doctors want to wait until the transplant is completely healed before doing the second surgery. No date is planned for the second surgery but it could be six months, Sheldon said.
Now that he has a good kidney, Sheldon has big plans. He wants to get into shape and run a 5K race in just seven months.
Sheldon's road to the transplant was a long, difficult path. Sheldon was born with just one kidney and the disease made it larger than a football. The cysts tend to slough off and cause health issues.
Sheldon had suffered for decades with the problem but the changes had been gradual and it wasn't until he was having back pain that he went to Dr. Steven Donnenwerth in Pratt. A large growth was discovered on Sheldon's left side that turned out to be his kidney. The cysts were bursting and causing Sheldon a lot of pain. It was also at this visit that he found out that he only had one kidney. He was recommended to a nephrologist in Wichita and found out his kidney was only functioning at 12 percent.
Sheldon was placed on the Midwest Transplant Network. Sheldon's health continued to decline and was told he should go on dialysis but he didn't want to do that. But his situation had gotten so bad, if he didn't go on dialysis, he wouldn't live long enough to get a kidney transplant.
Sheldon continued to work 12 hour shifts at the police department and made several trips to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City for possible transplant. He was excited but scared at the same time. When a donor match was found from a deceased donor, Sheldon prepared himself mentally for the transplant only to be disappointed when the doctor was not happy with the kidney and called off the surgery.
Finally, a living donor, Mark West, was found and after three weeks of dialysis, Sheldon had the two hour surgery on Oct. 14. The day after surgery, he felt better than he had in years.
"I was amazed how much better I felt instantly. I didn't know I could feel that good," Sheldon said.
But there was a complication after surgery. There was a blood clot in an artery that required additional surgery to remove, Beth said.
Sheldon remained in the hospital for five days and could be no further than 35 miles for 12 days after that in case of complications. But now he is home and continues to improve.
The Sheldons are grateful for everyone that helped them during this time. A couple they didn't know but were relatives of a Sheldon family friend offered their lake cabin for a month for Sheldon's recovery, Beth said.
"Everyone has been very nice," said Beth who was on an emotional roller-coaster and can't think about all the help their family received without welling up with tears. Beth said their kindness will allow James to watch his daughter graduate from college, some day he'll get to walk her down the aisle at her wedding and they'll get to take family vacations together.
Sheldon said he was amazed at how people came forward and helped out the family.