The first time doctors told Jake Lundell his kidneys were failing, the Inver Grove Heights resident was so shocked and embarrassed that he couldn’t bring himself to tell his parents for two weeks.
Lundell received a kidney transplant early in 2001. But his troubles were far from over. Last November, doctors told Lundell that his transplanted kidney was failing, and he would again need an organ transplant.
This time, Lundell, 38, was prepared for the bad news.
“I saw it coming,” Lundell said earlier this week. “I just said ‘OK, this is the battle, we’re going to go for it and see what happens.”
Complications like those that Lundell faces aren't unusual among transplant patients, according to Janet Anderson, a transplant recipient coordinator at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
Transplant recipients face a number of potential complications after a procedure. Rejection, the body’s natural response to foreign objects found in its system, can occur as much as ten years after the transplant, which is why even successful kidney transplant patients must take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives, Anderson said.
But even successful transplants have a limited lifespan, Anderson said. The average kidney transplant lasts for ten years, although some transplants can last up to 25 years.
In Lundell’s case, his transplanted kidney failed as the result of an allergic reaction coupled with scarring on the kidneys caused by anti-rejection meds he was taking.
Lundell’s trouble began in 2000, when he started feeling tired all the time. To get to the bottom of his chronic fatigue, the 26-year-old visited a doctor, who broke the news to Lundell that his kidneys were failing. At the time, medical specialists had no idea what caused Lundell’s kidneys to cease working.
“I was healthy, I was playing softball three four nights a week,” Lundell said. “All of sudden I couldn’t do that. ‘What did I do?’ was the only thought I had.”
After telling his parents and going on dialysis, Lundell received a kidney transplant from his mother in April 2001. He eventually found out from doctors that his kidney failure was caused by IgA nephropathy, a kidney disorder.
For the next ten years, Lundell lived a relatively normal life: He worked as a forklift operator and maintenance worker, and married his wife Danyell Lundell. Three years ago, they had a son, Parker, who was born on the anniversary of Lundell’s kidney transplant.
But last August, the regular lab tests Lundell receives to monitor his health showed that his transplanted organ was failing.
For the second time in his life, the volunteer firefighter, husband and father of a three-year-old son is looking for a kidney donor.
The Fight Starts Again
Lundell started dialysis again in February after a bout of pneumonia. Now, he dedicates more than 10 hours a week to the procedure, while he and Danyell struggle to balance Lundell’s health issues with the needs of their young family.
“The hardest thing is watching Jake go through this, knowing there is nowhere he'd rather be than at home with Parker, and there really isn't much I can do personally,” Danyell Lundell wrote in an email to Patch. “I remain very optimistic that something will come along but at times I wonder if I'm naive as to how long it could take!”
Dozens of people have stepped forward to find out if they could be potential donors for Lundell, Lundell said. But potential donors have to go through a battery of urine, blood and radiology tests before they can be confirmed as candidates. Bringing a potential donor through the evaluation process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, Anderson said.
Lundell also has a high antibody count, which further complicates the transplant procedure.
Each time a potential donor is rejected, Lundell said, his hopes come crashing down. Although he says it’s difficult for him to ask potential donors to step forward, Lundell worries he’ll be stuck on dialysis in perpetuity while he waits for a transplant.
Individuals on the national waiting list for a kidney donation face an average wait time of three to five years, according to Hennepin County Medical Center. More than 100,000 people are currently on the waiting list, and 4,000 new patients are added each month, according to statistics released by the National Kidney Foundation. Roughly 4,500 kidney patients died while waiting for a transplant each year.
But the potential reward from a successful transplant is great, Anderson said. Although patients have to take anti-rejection drugs, they are no longer tied to a dialysis machine for hours each week.
"He is such a resilient young man," Anderson said of Lundell. "That's what impresses me about these patients, how resilient they are in just taking life day by day."
WANT TO DONATE?
Potential kidney donors can email Jake and Danyell Lundell at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the tests, procedures and challenges potential donors and organ donation recipients face, click here. Potential donors must have an O blood type to donate to Jake, but individuals of any blood type may be able to help through “Paired Donation” programs.