Ann Thacher of Bristol Center (west of Harmony) received an amazing gift for her birthday this year. “It was like an early birthday present,” she said. On April 26, the week of her birthday, she received a phone call that would change and save her life. “When they called and said, you got a kidney, I was kind of in shock.” Thacher had waited four years for that call. On May 17, she underwent surgery to have a kidney transplant.
“I guess it was about 10 years ago they told me my kidney wasn’t working right,” recalled Thacher. She had been on a medication for many years that was known to affect kidneys, so her doctors regularly monitored her kidney function. When her creatinine level began to rise, it wasn’t bad enough at first to do anything so they continued to keep an eye on it. It continued to worsen until finally she was put on dialysis. For 27 months, Thacher drove to Decorah three times a week for dialysis. “It was exhausting,” she said. Her mother, Eleanor Junge, said that Ann would have to come home and take a nap each time she had dialysis, as it wiped her out for the rest of the day.
Before starting dialysis, Thacher had been registered on the kidney transplant list. One of her doctors had recommended that she run an ad in the paper asking for a donor, so she placed one in the Fillmore County Journal that ran for almost two years. “I figured the Journal’s reach was pretty big. I think the ad helped,” she said. Eleanor agreed, noting that they received many comments from people who saw it. Once Thacher received a kidney, she thought she had better run one more ad, letting people know that she was no longer looking and sharing her excitement. She let that ad run for two weeks.
The surgery went well, taking around 2 1/2 hours. Recovery was supposed to take one more hour after that, but Thacher was slow to come out of anesthesia. Just two days later, she was moved out of the hospital to Mayo’s transplant house. Staying there allowed her to rest and recover close to the clinic so she could keep her frequent appointments. She was there for nearly a month. While staying at the house, she was given a room with two beds and a kitchen area for storing and preparing her food. She was required to provide her own caregivers during her stay. Two of her daughters, a cousin, and a sister-in-law each took turns staying with Thacher to care for her.
Since her transplant, Thacher has been feeling much better and enjoying things she couldn’t do before the transplant. She’s back to her job working part-time at the Lanesboro Visitor Center. Her picture and transplant story were even included in a recent edition of the center’s newsletter. “I can eat dairy again. I couldn’t do that while I was on dialysis,” she said. She can also include more meat in her diet. Transplant patients have lifelong medications and lifestyle changes they need to make so they don’t get sick again or reject their new organ, and she is no exception. She can only drink water or eat food washed in water that has been purified to kill bacteria. She and her mom installed an ultraviolet water purification system in their home for that purpose. Thacher can’t eat leftovers over three days old, sandwich meat that hasn’t been heated up, bruised fruit, or fast food. She also has to watch her salt intake and is going on a Mediterranean diet minus the grains. Thacher has type 2 diabetes which she has always managed with her diet, but since the transplant, her blood sugar has been running high so she’s currently on insulin to manage that. The doctors are optimistic that it will begin to regulate itself soon, though. Thacher doesn’t go anywhere without her phone as it’s loaded with the alarms she needs to remind herself to take her transplant medications at specific times throughout the day. In September, she will undergo a biopsy to find out if her new kidney is being rejected or not and then that test will be repeated at intervals over the coming years. “It’s functioning normally right now!” she said.
“It’s a wonderful program.” Junge said about the live donor program.
Thacher agreed and urged people to look into donating. “If people feel they want to (donate), they should because there’s so many people looking for that donation,” she said. “It might make somebody’s day.”
If anyone is interested in donating, more information can be found at mayoclinic.org/livingdonor.