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Son steps up

Selfless act helps father get life back
Todd and Ray Westmeyer
Todd Westmeyer, right, gave his father, Ray, one of the greatest gifts of all when he donated a kidney.
  Ray Westmeyer doesn’t like being idle.

For 10 months, though, the Minot resident had no choice but to be still for large chunks of time each week. A little more than two years ago, Westmeyer’s kidneys shut down, forcing him to go on dialysis for four hours at a time three days a week.

Thanks to his son Todd and a team of experts at Sanford Health, Westmeyer’s schedule now includes a lot more openings following a kidney transplant.

“It’s nice to be able to just go to work in the morning,” Ray said. “I would go in circles if I wasn’t able to get up, go out and do things.”

On May 4, 2010, Nadim Koleilat, MD, Sanford Health’s transplant surgeon, removed one of Todd’s kidneys and transplanted it into Ray. Because of his son’s selfless act, Ray no longer has to go on dialysis, and other than being a little more careful with his diet and taking daily anti-rejection drugs, he is living a normal life filled with work, golf and time with his family.

“It’s amazing what these doctors can do,” Ray said.

Ray first noticed his kidney troubles four years ago. When he used the restroom, his urine would foam up like there was dish soap in the water,which prompted him to visit a doctor. A biopsy revealed kidney disease, and for three and a half years, Ray went on multiple medications in an attempt to kick-start his kidneys to function normally.

Nothing worked.

The problem grew worse when Ray suffered a heart attack. He needed a stent put in an artery, but the dye from the procedure is harmful to those with kidney disease. Four months later, Ray’s kidneys quit working altogether.

“I didn’t even know they were shutting down,” Ray said. “One Monday, I just didn’t feel right, and as the week went on, I started to feel worse. Finally, on Friday, I went into the hospital emergency room. They did some tests on me and found out my kidneys were shutting down.”

With his kidneys failing, Ray needed dialysis to cleanse his blood of waste. During that time, he also learned transplant was an option.

Without telling his brothers and sisters and despite his mother’s concerns, Todd was tested and learned he was a candidate to donate to his father.

“I was just happy I was able to help him out,” Todd said.

No need to wait

  Dr. Nadim Koleilat Nadim Koleilat, MD
Transplant surgery
If Ray had to put his name on the national registry to receive a kidney from a deceased donor, he potentially could’ve waited four years or longer for a transplant. Because he had a living donor, Ray was able to go through with the transplant once doctors determined both he and Todd were healthy enough for the procedures. “I feel real fortunate. It’s amazing,” he said. “They told me that, on the waiting list, you’re looking at four to six years. That’s a long time.”

Sanford Health became the first health center in North Dakota to perform kidney transplants in 1988, and it remains the only kidney transplant option in central and western North Dakota. Sanford Health has performed more than 350 transplants.

Having to drive only 100 miles south for his life-altering procedure and all subsequent follow-up appointments was a welcome relief for Ray. So is not having to sit still for dialysis three times a week.

“I was active again the moment they let me drive,” Ray said a little more than a year after the transplant. “I was back working 10 months ago. I feel great.”

Click here for more information about Sanford Transplant Center or call (701) 323-2833.

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