By Mike Frazier - H&R Staff Writer
ILLIOPOLIS - David and Carolyn Keleher must be a compatible couple to be married more than 30 years.
But they didn't discover just how compatible until David was told he needed a new kidney.
A little more than a year ago, David found out his kidney was failing. Finding a donor for a new kidney isn't an easy or fast undertaking, the family found.
Carolyn Keleher doubted one of her kidneys would work for her husband but was pleased to learn her kidney is a match. She quickly volunteered one of her kidneys for him.
The couple will undergo surgery Tuesday at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
"We had a lot of comments like, 'Oh, boy, you're going to owe her,' " Carolyn Keleher said. "I said to David, 'this kidney is a gift of love, and I don't expect anything for it, except you.' "
The transplant will be a welcome development for David Keleher, who is undergoing lengthy dialysis treatments to remove waste from his blood.
"I was surprised," he said. "It's rare to get a match that quickly."
It's unusual for a donor such as a wife to be a match for a kidney, said Kathy Holleman, a spokeswoman for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
To be a match, blood type and antigens must match, and the donor undergoes a rigorous physical exam.
"We want to make sure they're healthy in every way," Holleman said of the donors. "We don't want to have two patients after the operation, so we put them through a pretty thorough exam."
Kidneys are bean-shaped organs in the lower back that help remove waste from the blood.
"You only need one kidney," Holleman said. "Doctors say a lot of people are born with one kidney and never know they have only one kidney."
Kidney donors are screened to make sure they are in top health. Many donors end up living longer than the general population after donating a kidney because they are in good health, Holleman said.
Kidney failure is a growing health problem. It often is caused in part by diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.
"As diabetes goes up, you see more kidney failure," Holleman said.
Almost 90,000 patients seek organ transplants in the United States, and the majority need kidney transplants, Holleman said.
"We usually have in the area of 400 people on our waiting list, just for kidneys," Holleman said. "We do an average of about 120 or 125 kidney transplants a year, so there are a lot more people waiting than actually get them."
The hospital is working on a kidney exchange program to help match donors with kidneys.
Oftentimes, a donor would like to offer a kidney for a loved one, but the donor's kidney is not compatible with the intended recipient. The program seeks to match families of prospective donors, allowing them to "swap" healthy kidneys that would work for the intended recipients.
"We find a kidney from a living donor tends to do better than a kidney from a cadaver donor, even if the cadaver is a perfect match," Holleman said.
As surgery day nears, David and Carolyn Keleher said they have received a lot of support from the community.
"We've got a lot of people praying for us," Carolyn Keleher said. "We've got a good church family, excellent friends and family."
United Methodist Church in Illiopolis will help with meals when the couple returns home.
David Keleher is nearing retirement age and looking forward to golfing and fishing after he recovers from surgery. He also will be able to focus his energies as a village trustee for Illiopolis.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm ready for it."
Carolyn Keleher is hoping for a vacation after they recover from surgery.
"I want a cruise," she said. With a chuckle, she added, "I think I deserve it."
For additional information or to begin a transplant evaluation, call