Key Peninsula residents Kim and Jim Gebhardt are hopeful that someone local will step up and donate a kidney. Kim Gebhardt has stage 5 kidney disease and is on a waiting list for a vital organ. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

 

Longbranch resident Kim Gebhardt needs a kidney.

About six years ago, she was diagnosed with kidney disease.

“I thought I had tension headaches so I was taking a lot of ibuprofen –– probably four tablets every two hours,” Gebhardt, 51, said. “Ibuprofen will kill your kidneys, and it turned out that I had extremely high blood pressure.”

So high, in fact, that her doctor put her into the hospital immediately and started doing tests.

“When your blood pressure is that high, it affects your kidneys,” she said. “All my other organs looked OK, but my kidneys looked questionable.”

So her doctor began to monitor her every three months as Gebhardt slowly progressed from stage 3 to stage 5 kidney disease.

“Stage 5 is when they usually put you on dialysis,” said Kim’s husband, Jim Gebhardt, 54. “It’s the red-flag stage where they also put you on the list for a kidney transplant.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, a person’s Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is the best overall index of kidney function, because it shows how well the kidneys filter the body’s blood.

As of mid-July, Kim’s GFR was 15.

“If you’re 90 or above, your kidneys are in good shape,” Kim said. “My numbers have been slowly, steadily declining.”

She’s now on the national list, searching for a life-saving kidney donor.

She’s checked all the possible donors in her family, but none of them match, so now the Gebhardts are trying to get the word out that Kim needs a donor to, essentially, save her life with a new kidney.

“For me, it’s just surreal, because I feel good,” she said. “But the doctors are saying that I’m on that point where I need a transplant.”

It’s a quiet disease, her husband said. “It’s something that creeps up on you, and she doesn’t have a lot of the symptoms like being tired all the time. But you’re in a place where you know that something’s going to happen. She’s handling it like a real trooper.”

Kim has been on the waiting list for three months, along with 100,601 other people in the United States, according to the kidney foundation’s website.

The average wait for people with Type O blood –– Kim’s type –– is three years.

And every month, nearly 2,500 new patients are added to the list and, on average, 14 people die each day while they’re waiting for a transplant.

In 2013, slightly more than 14,000 patients got lucky and received new kidneys. While most came from deceased donors, nearly 5,000 came from living donors.

The majority of the people on the donor list –– 61 percent –– are women.

“The thing is,” said Jim, “you don’t have to die to be a donor. People can help now. And just about everyone can function just fine with just one kidney. But donating a kidney is really a major decision to make.”

The next step for Kim is to have a fistula placed into one of her veins so that when she starts dialysis, “they can get the needle in more easily,” she said.

The fistula procedure will happen within the next three months, because it takes about six months for the incision to heal. “I might not need dialysis for awhile, but this way I’ll be ready,” she said.

Fortunately, the Gebhardts have insurance, which pays for most of the costs. The transplant center at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, where Kim is a patient, also pays for some things, Kim said. Still, the couple has a lot of expenses.

They’ve printed up some business cards, which they’re distributing throughout the Peninsula, that ask potential kidney donors to get in touch by email.

They’ve also recently set up a Facebook page –– KimneedsakidneyGebhardt –– where they’ll be posting progress reports about her condition.

For information on how to become a donor, or to learn more about kidney disease, visit donatelife.net or kidney.org.

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