Thursday, February 6, 2014

Paine's Pain Goes Away

By Paul Thompson
Just over two years ago, when 18-year old Lora Paine was rushed to Kansas City’s Research Medical Center with her blood pressure rising dangerously from what was eventually diagnosed as glomerulonephritis - an uncommon illness that causes the blood vessels in the kidney to inflame - her best friend Mary Ryan came to Lora’s bedside in support.

For 25 grueling months the disease attacked Lora’s kidneys, causing the organs to fail and her life to be flipped upside down. On January 8, 2014, Lora was back at Research Medical Center, and Mary was there again to support her. This time, Lora’s stay at the hospital was scheduled. She was there to get her new kidney; Mary’s kidney.

Within days, Lora was up and about her hospital room, feeling as well as she had since the diagnosis.
Creatinine is a form of waste created through activity, and it is normally filtered through the body by the kidneys. A creatinine level just below 1.0 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood is considered normal. Creatinine levels of 2.0 mg/dl typically show kidneys operating below half capacity. The week of the surgery, Lora tested at 17.9 mg/dl with her failing kidneys. The first night after surgery, Lora said her levels had decreased to 13.0 mg/ dl. The third day following the operation, her levels were back to normal; she felt like she could run a mile. The renewed energy came as a shock.

“It was just a miraculous feeling,” said Lora. “I guess I’d kind of forgotten that you could feel that good, because it had been building up for so long.”

Mary and Lora met at the Blue River Bible Church as children, where Paine’s father Charles has been a pastor for the past 31 years. Although the Ryans moved to California for seven years as the two friends grew up, the families re-connected when they moved back to the metropolitan area. Lora said they were very close before the diagnosis, when her social life dissolved due to her condition and duties as a manager at McDonald’s; a job she maintained while undergoing dialysis for eight hours per day and visiting doctors’ offices with increased regularity. Lora was perhaps most caught up during this time, though, with searching for a kidney donor.

Mary wasn’t the first choice to provide Lora with a new functioning kidney. She wasn’t even the second. At first, Lora’s brother Joe was considered, but his urine tested too high in protein to serve as a match. Another potential donor proved to be a match, and she made it the majority of the way through the donation process before second-guessing the decision. A third candidate came forward claiming to have three working kidneys, until further tests showed that two of the three were failing. New candidates continued to be tested as matches, but after almost two years of bad luck and near-misses, Lora had begun to wonder when and how she might come across a compatible donor.

“Who between the ages of 18 and 22 is sitting around the house doing nothing, and has the time to take about three months to go to doctors’ appointments regularly, and then actually three weeks to
take off work to do a procedure like this?” Lora wondered at one point. “I thought that it was like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Mary had always wanted to help, and had asked Lora to have her kidneys tested for compatibility. Lora passed along the information, but didn’t get her hopes up right away. The two had always had what Lora described as a ‘funny’ relationship, always joking and cracking each other up.

“So I didn’t know how serious she was, in all reality,” said Lora.

This time, Mary was not joking around. In fact, knowing how heartbroken Lora had been after seeing her previous donors fail to pan out, Mary decided to anonymously go through testing to gauge the compatibility of her kidneys.

 “It’s not for other people,” said Mary. “That’s why I didn’t tell her that I went to go get the blood test. I waited until I found out it was a match. I didn’t want to do that again, to get her hopes up.”

Mary proved to be a match, and the operation went off without a hitch. Lora will have Mary’s kidney, nicknamed ‘baby girl’ by the pair, in her body for as long as it operates properly. Mary will forever live with only her remaining kidney, dubbed ‘big momma’ for its expected workload. Throughout this process, which offered every chance for the 21-year old Belton resident to change her mind, Mary’s conviction never wavered. To her, the sacrifice she was making was never even a choice.

“I’ve known Lora since we were three, so that kind of helped,” said Mary. “It’s not something that I really had to think about. When one of your friends is going through that, it’s automatic.”

Lora is still largely relegated to her Grandview home following surgery, building up immunities for her new organ. She can’t wait to run again, and she’s very much looking forward to enjoying the fruits and salads that were once a staple of her diet. Favorites such as kiwi, strawberries, and bananas are difficult for the kidney to process, and thus were strictly off limits for Lora over the course of her illness.

She doesn’t wear the appearance of someone who needs home confinement, though. Lora bounces around with enthusiasm and projects radiant joy in her barely-contained voice. She happily tells stories of her first forays into exercise after the surgery.

“Basically, the only thing I can do is go on walks. My dog and I went on a 3.2 mile walk last week,” said Lora excitedly. “That was like my main highlight because I finally had the energy to do something like that. I’d attempted numerous times, but I ended up just calling my mom, saying ‘come
pick me up, I can’t do it.’”

With Lora’s mental and physical health returning to pre-diagnosis levels, Mary is once again noticing the quirks in her friend’s personality. A return to normalcy has come hand in hand with a return to the same sort of funny relationship which made them such good friends in the first place.

“I’m glad that I can finally make her pee her pants again,” said Mary with a laugh.

Lora’s current high spirits stand in stark contrast to the relative mood of the past two years. Certainly, no one was laughing when Lora was rushed to the emergency room during that fateful Thanksgiving
week in 2011. Lora’s father Charles remembers the call with doctors that led to the ER visit, and still vividly recalls what the doctors said when they saw Lora’s symptoms first-hand.

“Her blood pressure had spiked so high when she was in the hospital the first time that she was at stroke-level,” said Charles. “They told me stroke-level, and that concerned me. It could have happened at any time.”

In addition to high blood pressure and low energy, Lora also dealt with an infection to hair follicles known as folliculitis, and a calcium-based inflammation of the joints known as pseudo-gout during this time. As Lora and her family went through the winding, circuitous process of finding a replacement kidney, she occasionally had trouble keeping her spirits up.

All around her though, there was support. McDonald’s helped throw a citywide fundraiser for their afflicted employee, and Lora’s family and friends purchased t-shirts and organized a prayer team on her behalf. Hand-written letters from sympathizers helped Lora get through the most difficult times.

“A lot of people at our church would write letters. It was so inspiring,” said Lora. “I mean, I love getting mail, and I was never getting mail before. Even in my more down times, I would get a letter, and it was just like a miracle to build me up.”

Also helping to build Lora up was the service dog her brother Joe had gotten her for Christmas in 2012. Named Chevy, the Catahoula Leopard dog was ten weeks old when it joined Lora’s world. For Chevy, that meant sitting right by Lora’s side through the night, as her owner went through hours of dialysis.

“She’s probably been what’s kept my spirits up the majority of the time,” acknowledged Lora.

Chevy wasn’t only a boon for moral support, though. When Lora’s dialysis machine would cause her body to painfully cramp up through the night, Chevy would rush to her parents’ room, imploring them to get up and help Lora massage away the pain.

“There were many times throughout that time where she would wake up crying out in the night,” said Charles of Lora. “I think Lora felt a lot of loneliness during this time, and I think that dog really helped to bring some peace.”

Chevy became a constant sight; at Lora’s side at home, riding along for car trips, or accompanying her on hospital visits. As the date for the kidney transplant approached, Chevy began to grow more and more concerned about Lora’s worsening condition. Eventually, Chevy stopped sleeping regularly at night as she waited anxiously by Lora’s side.

“She would stay really close to me,” said Lora of Chevy. “She had both of her paws on my chest and her head on my heart. She was worried about me.”

Thankfully for the Paines, Mary remained steadfast in her resolve. On January 8, she donated a kidney to Lora, and the healing process could finally begin. Physically, the results began to show almost immediately. The new kidney was not a magical cure-all, but it’s certainly a step in that direction for a 20-year-old who had almost forgotten how to live pain-free.

Emotionally, though, it was hard for Lora and her family to articulate just how impactful Mary’s sacrifice was to the family.

“It made us feel so encouraged. We’ve tried to express that to Mary countless times, how gratefulwe are for what she did,” said Charles. “Because we knew that it’s given Lora a new lease on life.”

“Her family’s really supported her through this, and they all just think so highly of her,” said Lora of Mary. “I do too, because I never dreamed she would come through like this.”

For her part, Mary is just thankful that she was able to help a friend in need. She says the entire experience has served to strengthen her faith.

“My relationship with Christ has gotten stronger,” says Mary. “He blessed me with two amazing kidneys. I guess I’m happier now, just because I was able to do that. I’m proud of my kidney.”

“They can’t even explain how thankful they are,” she adds. “That’s enough for me. Some things you can’t put into words, and I understand that.”

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