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Giving, and Receiving, the Gift of Life: DaVita Teammate and Transplant Recipient Tells His Story
Editor’s Note: This is the story of Joe Nolte, a DaVita systems administrator living in Florida. We will be sharing his story over the next three weeks, so check back next Thursday for the second installment.
My story started much like that of every other patient. As a teenager, I thought I had the years ahead of me all mapped out: I was going to be a varsity letter winner—there was no doubt in my mind that I would letter in cross country, wrestling and track and field. My whole life I admired my older brother, who in my eyes could walk on water. I wanted to be just like him. The summer before my freshman year in high school, I was running up to three times a day. I was extremely tired but thought nothing about it, as this is the story of a long distance runner.
Early September when I was a freshman, I was required to have a physical to be allowed to race for my school. The doctor asked if I was having any problems, so I told him my complaints were tiredness and knee pain. At the time, I thought I made a huge error in judgment by telling this to the doctor, as it caused me to fail my physical. I would need to see my family doctor to sign off on allowing me to compete. But cross country season had started and I was left out. My mother took me to see our family doctor, who said that I needed a knee surgery. I thought to myself, “I’m 16 years old. This has to be a mistake.”
Several weeks later, we were sent for pre-surgical blood work. This was the first time in my somewhat adult life that I had blood drawn, and my fear of needles had me thinking the world was ending. This was on October 30th, a day I will never forget. We were called into the family doctor’s office. Everything seemed to move in slow motion—we were told that my kidneys were not working. The blood work result showed that my creatinine level was at 8 or 9. I was told that there were only a few options: dialysis, transplantation or death. I have never heard of dialysis, and I thought transplantation only happened in the movies.
I was sent to St. Christopher Hospital for Children (St. Chris). My mother and I were in the nephrology department, and I had this pitting feeling in my belly as I looked at all the small children with round faces. I told my mother I didn’t want to look like that. Something that my mother said to me rings true to this day. She told me that these little children are going to look up to you, so put on a brave face. I stuffed my emotions and my fears and accepted my fate. The staff at St. Chris were amazing. We were given a tour of the dialysis center, and as we were in the waiting room of the dialysis center, a patient walked out and her arm started to spew blood like a water fountain. We watched in horror. What am I getting myself into, I thought.
I had a fistula placed, and we were advised to start looking for a dialysis center that I could treat at. Our first center was in Camden, NJ. It was an old A&P grocery store prior to becoming a dialysis center. My mother liked the idea that it was across the street from Our Lady of Lourdes hospital. She said that the blessed Mother would look over me. Walking into this adult center was too much for me at the time. I think my mother knew this was not the center for us. It was decided that I would be treated at St. Christopher’s Hospital Dialysis Center.
One Friday night in November, my father took a call and we were told I needed to start dialysis on Monday. I was sitting on the floor next to the heater vent in tears. My father bent down and hugged me, saying it will be OK. Monday seemed to come over night. I was so afraid to be stuck with tree limb size needles. I was shown the 15 gauge size needles before, but over time, they grew larger in my head. Eventually, it was my turn to start my first treatment. I was stuck with a needle, and at this point I thought it was a simple blood test needed. I was thrilled to come to understand that these were the needles for my treatment.
So here I was—I had just turned 17, in high school and I started doing dialysis.
Read more of Joe’s story next week on the DaVita Stories blog.