Part 2: Giving, and Receiving, the Gift of Life
Editor’s Note: This is the story of Joe Nolte, a DaVita systems administrator living in Florida. We will be sharing his story in segments, so check back next week for the third installment.
Last week’s installment: So here I was—I had just turned 17, in high school, and I started doing dialysis.
My treatments had their ups and downs. Looking back, I think the hardest part back then was the fluid restriction and the inability to sleep. But that fall ended, and the winter began.
My life seemed to be on repeat. I would go to school three days a week, and my older brother’s wife would pick me up from school in the small town of Maple Shade, NJ and drive me to Philadelphia, PA for my treatments. Treatments were rough for me, as I struggled with extremely low blood pressure. After treatments, I would wait in the lobby of the hospital for my father—who worked long hard hours—to pick me up. He had no choice but to work long hours because it took a lot to support a family of 12 children.
A fond memory from this time, however, involved the patient I mentioned earlier (the one who was bleeding from her arm when I first saw her). This patient ended up becoming a wonderful friend of mine and DaVita’s. We ended up on the same shift at the center. She asked the social worker to ask me if I would go to her prom with her, and I said yes. We both went to her prom after our dialysis treatment. For that one night, we both felt that we were living, not just being alive. The girl’s name was Dawn, and sadly she has since passed. Wherever I go, I will always carry fond memories of Dawn and her family.
That winter had ended and the warmth of spring had begun. My parents’ wedding anniversary was coming up on the 28th of May, and they decided not to go anywhere in case I got called for a transplant. I thought that was just silly, thinking “what would be the chance of being called on that day?” Well, life is funny that way because that early evening of the 28th, my younger brother answered the phone and said it was a doctor asking for our dad. My pop came to the phone and had this serious look on his face. He shook his head yes. I was thinking”…yes…what??” He proclaimed to me, “You have a kidney!”
I started bouncing around like a Super Ball. I ran in to our bedroom to tell my big brother Jim that I got a kidney. But he tried bringing me down, reminding me that I had gotten a page for a kidney in the past that didn’t pan out. I ran out of the room and captured an image that is seared into my brain: it was that of my father kneeling at his bedside praying. The world stopped, and I understood at that moment that this was not something to take lightly.
The beauty of the illumined Betsy Ross Bridge with the lights glowing and the joy I was feeling made the night this night especially memorable. My mother and father were taking me to St. Chris for what we hoped would result in a transplant. When we got there, I had to get some tests done to ensure the kidney was a good match. Results came back and it was! Later that night, I was rolled into the operating room. The next memory was the pain. It was pain that had no description. But each day the pain got better, and I was released from the ICU. I had many visitors, but one of my favorites was that of my cross country and track coaches. They adorned me with new running shoes and a Maple Shade cross country long sleeve shirt. The gift was my prize possession.
I was released from the hospital in early June. It was the last day of school and I was allowed to go with an understanding that I had to wear a mask. I wanted to go to thank everyone for all the support. I came to learn that the school had a collection to help my parents with expenses. Later in life, my wife said that she recalls her sister asking their parents for some change so that she could donate. Life was wonderful for that week. After that week, I had to return to the hospital for a follow-up and was told I needed to stay for some tests over the weekend. That weekend turned into the rest of the summer. The result was the loss of my first donated kidney.
It was time to go back on dialysis. I was only 17 and felt like an 80-year-old man.
Read more of Joe’s story next week on the DaVita Stories blog.