DaVita Stories

A Patient Shares His Story

My name is Roger Phillip Smelser, Jr. I have in my heart a desire to talk about a little bit of my journey in life. I was always very active growing up; playing sports and living life to its fullest. I had a very special childhood that I will cherish forever.

At age 23 I was well on my way into an adult life with the birth of my first son. My second son was born four years later. Life was rolling right along. I was always busy with working (as a plumber), coaching ball for my sons, and I felt “living the dream.”

At age 38 things took a turn. I got heavy from fluid retention, couldn’t breathe well, couldn’t walk because I was so tired. I went to the doctor and found that god had dealt me a situation I had a hard time dealing with: I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I was determined I could beat it; not about to say “I’m done.” I love life so much. So I got a defibrillator put in hoping that would work – and it did.

I worked hard for 10 years to do my best, keep moving along. After 10 years, I again started having a lot of fluid retention. I was so swollen I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything, it was awful. I never once thought I was done or that I couldn’t fix this. I kept telling myself “I will get better.”

In September 22, 2014, I went to the doctor to talk about options. I was with him for about a half hour, then admitted to the hospital and told I had a 5% ejection fraction. I was given a left VAD. It didn’t work. Then a right VAD. It didn’t work. I was in the hospital all this time.

They put me on continuous dialysis which meant I couldn’t move. I had to stay in the hospital until I could, hopefully, receive a gift of life: a new heart.

It was a long wait just lying in a hospital bed thinking good thoughts, trying to be optimistic, thinking about again doing the things I always enjoyed. I missed being outdoors, fishing, and coaching little league. I never thought “I’m done.”

On December 2, 2014 I received the most precious gift of life. I got my new heart that morning. Those who know me know I don’t do anything easy. I had set backs, but I was determined to live my life. After hospitalization and rehab I got to go home. Four and a half months later and 100 pounds lighter.  I was ready for this second chance.

But I wasn’t done yet. My heart issues caused my kidneys to stop functioning. I was so blessed to get into the most caring Davita Dialysis center in the whole world. From day one they have taken the time and the patience to show me what angels do. My doctors, nurses, dietician, and most of all, the techs.

As always, it took me awhile to get right, get on track. They never gave up on me. They know how to make me feel special. I’ll never forget one day I told my tech I was sorry to be a bother to her. Her reply was that maybe God sent me to them to wake them up.  I will never forget that.

After 2 years on in-center hemodialysis, I’m again waiting from another gift from God: a kidney transplant. I’m doing so much better. I love vacationing, being outside, and I’ve even started coaching T-ball for 5 and 6 year olds. I fit right in with them! As an added gift, on May 28 I will get to meet the person who allowed the heart of their loved to be donated to me.

I just want to end this by saying please don’t ever think to yourself “I’m done.” I promise you there is a good chance that tomorrow will be a good day. Never give up, please; life is a gift to cherish.

Roger Smelser, Jr.

Roger Smelser, Jr.

Roger is 51 years old and has two sons. He has always worked in his family’s plumbing business. His favorite things are traveling and coaching youth baseball.