LONGMONT — Grant Schmidt and Barb Huner tease each other as they reminisce about the kidney transplant surgery they underwent one year ago.
Humor is part of their routine. So is prayer. That is how they cope with the ups and downs associated with an organ transplant.
On April 7, 2004, Huner, a real estate investor, saved Schmidt’s life by giving him one of her kidneys.
Schmidt, the principal at Fall River Elementary School in northeast Longmont, asked the community for help in August 2003 after Berger’s disease, an autoimmune disorder, had reduced his kidney function to below 20 percent.
Many people stepped up to offer a kidney, including teachers and staff at his school.
By the day of his surgery, his kidney function was down below 10 percent and he was going through dialysis to clean his blood about three times a week.
Now, a year later, Schmidt continues to leap hurdles.
Just making it to the one-year anniversary of his transplant surgery was a huge milestone, he said.
Most doctors say that 90 percent of transplant patients will not reject a new organ if they make it through one full year. But in December, Schmidt got a scare that made him think he might not make it.
Not feeling well a few days before Christmas, he went to the emergency room, where doctors found evidence of the BK virus after a blood test.
A virus that most people contract as children, BK usually lies dormant, except in people who have had organ transplant surgery.
After Schmidt’s surgery, doctors placed him on two heavy-duty drugs that suppress the immune system to keep his body from rejecting the new kidney.
Unfortunately, one of the drugs reached a toxic level in his system, kicking his immune system down so low it could no longer fight off the BK virus.
The virus is deadly in kidney transplant patients because it infiltrates the blood and attacks the new organ.
So far, biopsies show the virus has not reached Schmidt’s kidney. Doctors have taken him off the drug that became toxic in his system and boosted his other immunity suppressor in hopes that his own immune system will be able to fight off the virus.
In the meantime, Schmidt took a medical leave of absence from work Jan. 10. He will remain on leave until the end of June because doctors are afraid he could contract other potentially fatal germs, like strep or the flu, while his immune system is compromised.
“I actually feel pretty good. The new kidney is functioning really well,” Schmidt said.
When tested last week, the BK virus was still in his blood, but the kidney looked fine and seemed to be functioning well, so doctors did not perform another biopsy, Schmidt said.
Huner has been a constant friend to Schmidt throughout his ordeal.
“We have a keen interest in his continued good health,” she said. “We keep in touch once a week and every time he goes to the doctor.”
Schmidt said that support and the support of his family and church have helped keep him going.
“We draw strength from our experiences,” he said.
Huner added that “every day you can talk to (Schmidt) is a blessing. God’s hand is at work in this and we don’t lose sight of that.
“We understand that what comes along, we will deal with it the best we can and pray for a full recovery,” she said.
As long as Schmidt’s kidney functions properly and his drugs remain balanced, doctors believe the BK virus will not be a concern, he said.
Schmidt is anxious to return to Fall River.
“Being a year out (from transplant surgery), it is hard for folks to realize it takes time to heal,” he said.
Both Huner and Schmidt encourage community members to explore organ donation and help save a life.
Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211, or by e-mail at email@example.com.