The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


March 12, 2014

Second Chances: A Patient's Journey

— There’s a saying in Terry Russell’s trade: “We sell the Earth and everything upon it.” In fact, the auctioneer from Galax, Va., claims the only objects he hasn’t yet swapped are a ship and a locomotive. Still, the man known for procuring virtually anything was helpless to access the one item that could save his life — a kidney.

Before the Army veteran arrived at Beckley VA Medical Center, he had given up on medical treatment, first being promised he was a transplant candidate, then experiencing the depletion of hemodialysis treatments that took “everything out of my body but my soul.”

Russell says he was told by a former physician at another facility that he was already on a transplant list.

“For five years, we thought I was on that list, when I wasn’t,” Russell states.

Flashback to what caused the destruction of his kidney tissue, a nephrotoxic combination of medications to treat arthritis, and it is understandable Russell harbored a hefty dose of skepticism.

“I didn’t have a problem with my kidneys until after the medications,” he said.

The uncoordinated regimen prescribed piecemeal by different physicians proved highly destructive. “No one did kidney function tests then,” he stated. “(In the early ‘90s), they were just working on me and trying to treat the arthritis.”

Eventually, Russell found his way to the Beckley VA Medical Center, what he calls the “Taj Mahal” of facilities for veterans. He met Dr. Jorge Gordinho, whom he reveres as “One of the finest physicians that’s ever been.”

Dr. Gordinho helped to turn Russell’s declining health around by introducing him to the right type of dialysis for him, Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD).

CAPD is an alternative to hemodialysis for certain patients involving an implant in the peritoneum, or lining of the abdominal cavity. According to the National Kidney Center, CAPD doesn’t require a machine, only a clean well-lit place where the patient can self-treat.

Once a surgical implant is placed and the abdominal area given time to heal, the patient receives education on how to perform the procedure. A bag of dialysis solution enters via catheter into the abdomen, stays for several hours and then is drained for disposal. While the procedure isn’t for every patient needing dialysis, the self-reliant, independent Russell fit the bill.

According to Dr. Gordinho, “To be a good candidate for CAPD is to have a ‘virgin belly’ — no surgeries and therefore no adhesions. Another factor is for the patient to be an active participant in his or her treatment plan. Mr. Russell was very active and willing to do what it took to improve his outcome.”

For Russell, who was finally placed and confirmed on not one but two transplant lists (Veteran’s Health Administration and Charleston Area Medical Center), the alternative was a blessing as he waited for a donor match.

On March 24, 2013, Russell finished his last course of seven years of dialysis when he answered a call from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center telling him to leave immediately. A kidney matching his requirements had been harvested.

Russell remembers every detail of the transplant provided at UPMC, working in partnership with the VHA. Commenting on the professionalism of the staff and the high level of coordination, Russell says he was greeted at the door with preparations beginning immediately.

“Forty-five minutes later, the kidney was in and functioning.”

That Russell is doing well with his transplant is no surprise to Dr. Gordinho. “The more reliable and compliant the patient, the more successful the transplant process will be,” he states.

Another member of Russell’s VA Medical Center team, Ginny Topping, R.N., B.S.N. and the Beckley VAMC’s organ transplant case manager, explains how the support person to a patient receiving a transplant, often the spouse, is also a critical component to recovery.

“They encourage the patient as far as compliance goes and help them take care of themselves.”

For Russell, his constant support system was wife, Shirley.

Together, they plan on obtaining the information about his donor if and when the opportunity becomes available. What they were told about the anonymous donor is that he or she was in a car accident and was around 50 years old.

When the concerned or curious ask Russell how he feels, he chooses a lighthearted response: “Well ... I’ve got this urge for a set of pink high-heeled pumps.” On the serious side, whatever the donor’s gender or background, the gift to this master barterer was ... priceless.

“I’m not the same person I was before the transplant. I was agitated on dialysis and I was worn slap out after 15 minutes of mowing the yard. Now, I’m at peace. There’s no stress and I don’t run out of energy.”

In addition to his sometimes demanding, lengthy auctions, Russell is back to being an active youth leader at his church. He can also eat the foods he loves that were restricted during dialysis, like beans and milk products.

“It’s a totally different life on dialysis, when your body has no way of getting rid of things.  I couldn’t even eat bananas.”

Russell’s best observation, a summary of his long journey back to health after kidney failure, is this: You are either your body’s hero or its worst enemy.

“We take it for granted that a doctor is always right. You need to research and know your body and take care of it. Don’t abuse your body with the things you put into it.”

Dr. Gordinho agrees. “It is very important for everyone to be aware of the foods, medications and fluids we put into our bodies. Patients with kidney failure should curb their protein intake and drink quality fluids — (mostly) water.”

Ginny Topping also leads a monthly Transplant Support Group, open to the public, at the VA Medical Center, Beckley. Topping encourages not only transplant patients but those awaiting transplant and any family members to attend.

For support group dates and times, call 304-255-2121,  Ext. 4676.

— E-mail:

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