‘Around a little longer’: Steamboat Springs man needs a kidney
Kari Dequine Harden/Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Glen Gunderson didn’t want to be interviewed. If he had it his way, “No one would know I had kidney disease.”
But, on the insistence of his wife, kids and a few close friends, Gunderson agreed to put a call out for a living donor.
“My wife wants to keep me around a little longer,” he said.
Gunderson has Stage 5 chronic kidney disease. Heading toward a steady rate of decline, his kidneys are barely doing their job filtering toxins out of his blood.
To survive, he will either have to go on dialysis or get a transplant.
He was accepted into a transplant program last October, so he’s officially on the donor list. However, getting a donor could take anywhere from four to 10 years.
Gunderson said his doctors say he will likely have to go on dialysis in three or four months. In an ideal world, he’d find a donor before that and avoid it entirely.
Research shows the less time patients spend on dialysis, the more successful a transplant.
“I said, ‘Glen, you gotta get a kidney,’” said Tracy Bye, one of the Gundersons’ friends who has been pushing to get the word out knowing he wasn’t comfortable publicizing his increasingly dire situation.
“Glen needs one soon,” she said. “And, I want to help him be able to live a long life and see his kids get married.”
Two years ago, Bye donated one of her kidneys to Henry Howard, who was a student of Bye’s during her 30-year teaching career at Steamboat Springs High School and Middle School.
“I didn’t even think about the risks,” Bye said. “I thought, I can do this. I love Henry Howard. I don’t want him to be sick.”
Now married with two kids, Howard is a musician and works with kids.
“He’s an uplifting person that brings everyone else up,” Bye said. “He was still needed in this world.”
Bye said she doesn’t notice any difference living with only one kidney, and she described the recovery as “nothing.”
“It was so much easier than knee surgery; I felt fine,” Bye said.
Bye first met Jennifer Gunderson, Glen’s wife, when they worked together in 1984.
Jennifer grew up in Craig and has lived with Glen in Steamboat for over 30 years. They met on the Green River when Jennifer was on a family trip, and Glen was their rafting guide.
Bye said she knows it’s been hard on the couple, especially the last few years, as Glen’s energy level continues to drop and Jennifer takes on more and more of the work and household responsibilities. They raised their two sons in Steamboat, and the whole family has always enjoyed a very active lifestyle.
An avid skier and golfer, Glen said he’s not been able to do the things he loves. He’s lost about 30 pounds, along with his appetite. And, Bye said Glen told her, “I just want to be a better husband.”
Jennifer drafted a letter to send out to friends and family, detailing the need and the process.
“His low kidney function is life threatening at this moment, and it has become increasingly clear that seeking live-donor candidates is very important at this time,” Jennifer wrote.
Potential donors go through a preliminary screening to see if they might be a match before a much more extensive set of tests. Glen’s blood type is B-positive, but there are also universal blood types.
Bye calls it the “best health screening you could ever have.”
All costs are covered by the recipient, and Bye said the hospital staff made it easy, even giving her the option to opt out up to the very last minute.
“They were just so grateful,” Bye said. “There are so many people on the transplant list.”
Jennifer said she and her sons are going to see if they are matches, but Jennifer’s petite size might be an obstacle, and Glen said he’s worried for his sons, in the event his kidney disease is hereditary.
Living-donor success rates are high. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 97% at one year and 86% at five years after transplant.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, 13 people die each day waiting for a kidney transplant, and over 3,000 people are added to the kidney waiting list each month.
“It was a super, surreal experience,” Bye said. “Everything about it was unbelievable. I can’t tell that it made any difference in my life. But to the person I donated — it made a huge difference.”
Potential donors can call 720-754-2155 or email Kathryn.Odea@HealthONEcares.com.
They can also fill out a Living Donor questionnaire at http://www.pslmc.com/signmeup.