Last year, he got a transplant, thanks to someone’s gift of life.
The diagnosis came in Don’s early 40s.
“It didn’t really surprise me that I had this because my mother passed away from that when she was 40 years old,” he says. “I was just a kid. I was 11.”
Polycystic kidney disease or PKD causes cysts to consume the kidneys.
“It causes your kidney function to gradually go down,” he said.
Don went on with normal life for years, reporting on the humorous side of life. Years later, when his nephrologist said it was time for a transplant, Don was surprised.
“Really? It’s that bad?? That’s kind of drastic,” he recalls saying. “It was so gradual getting to that point that my body got used to it.”
While on the waiting list, Don got plenty of calls.
“I was a backup probably a dozen times,” Don said.
Don Polec explains how he found out about his polycystic kidney disease diagnosis.
But in February of 2020, the call was for real, and he rushed to Lehigh Valley Hospital. Don vividly recalls one thing in the operating room.
“There’s this guy sitting at a table with what looks like a baking pan in front of him and he’s marinating, I mean, it looks like a chicken breast. What is this guy? I mean, we’re preparing for a major medical procedure here and this guy is preparing his dinner,” Don said, keeping his typical dry sense of humor.
“Wait a minute! That’s the kidney! THAT’S the kidney!” he said.
Today, Don is back to his old self, full of wit and humor, and happy to experience it.
“It’s like it never happened,” he said.
Like all transplant patients, he takes daily medication to keep his immune system from rejecting the kidney. But it’s now a few pills a day, compared to the dozen or so he remembers immediately after the operation.
Lehigh Valley’s transplant chief says these days, 94% of transplanted kidneys are going strong a year later, and last about a decade.
“Medium-term and long-term survival is really quite good and better than if you stay on dialysis,” said Dr. Michael Moritz.
Don wrote to the donor family, to thank them for their gift and he and his son Andrew, a Broadway actor, have teamed up making public service messages for the National Kidney Foundation.
In one released this spring, Andrew says, “Because of people like you, I can spend more time with my father.”
Don replies, “Because of people like you, I can watch my son perform on stage again.”
After theaters were shut down by COVID-19, Andrew is now back on stage, performing in a revival of the musical “Hair” in San Diego.
“Here’s the fun transplant fact. It isn’t like if you swap out an organ. They don’t take the old ones out. You get a third one in what is apparently an unused amount of real estate in your abdomen, so it’s like a turbo kidney,” joked Don.
Don also got through a bout with COVID-19 last fall.
A new study predicts that COVID-19 will create a new wave of people needing dialysis or transplants. It predicts another 7.8 people per 10,000 of those with mild to moderate COVID-19.
Doctors are already seeing an increase in kidney damage for those who survive serious cases of the virus, so increasing the number of potential donors is important.
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