November 16, 2009
Ron Pestka’s determination and zest for life have seen him through tragedies and triumphs, and has strengthened his commitment to helping others.
Kidney Transplant was a “Rebirth”
Pestka struggled with the ravages of diabetes since childhood. By age 53, the disease had taken a toll on his kidneys and they began to fail. His doctor put him on a waiting list at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for a kidney transplant.
Pestka’s wife, Judy, a nurse at Barnes-Jewish, wanted to donate her kidney to him but, because she had high blood pressure, she was unable to donate. His three children were too young at the time.
Meanwhile, Pestka, a former executive at a shoe company, was receiving dialysis three times a week while he waited for a transplant. “I looked like a skeleton and I had no ‘get up and go,’” he says.
After nearly nine months on the waiting list, the lifesaving call finally came: a kidney was available. “When I woke up after the transplant, it felt like a rebirth,” Pestka
recalls. “People told me how much better I looked. Six months later, I was walking the golf course with friends. And today, I can even play street hockey with my grandchildren. I know if I didn’t have a transplant, I would not be here.
Another Twist in the Road
After his transplant, Pestka joined the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Auxiliary, Plaza Chapter, and began volunteering in its administrative office. But he was looking to help in a bigger way. A transplant coordinator at Barnes-Jewish asked him to teach a class to patients waiting for a transplant.
For the next nine years, he taught the transplant class twice a week. “I met a lot of people, many of whom were so overwhelmed,” he says. “Teaching them was quite fulfilling for me and gave me a reason for all I went through. I felt like I conquered it.”
But his fight was tested again eight years ago when he was in a horrific car accident that crushed his right hip and leg. “I was not expected to live and spent three months in a coma at Barnes-Jewish Hospital,” Pestka says.
While he was comatose, he required dialysis just once for his transplanted kidney. “I received one tough kidney,” he says. “Thankfully, I pulled through the accident. After all I had been through with the transplant, I wasn’t going to let the accident beat me.”
Solving a Toothache, Saving a Life
Pestka’s trials never derailed his dedication to helping people. In 2008, he became co-president of the Auxiliary’s Plaza Chapter, along with Christine Anthony. His presidential position and experience as a kidney transplant recipient soon became intertwined in a desperate cause.
Pestka learned that some people evaluated for kidney transplants don’t qualify for the transplant waiting list because they have dental problems. (Infections can start in the mouth and spread to the kidneys.) Many of these patients have no dental insurance and Medicare often doesn’t pay for dental care. Yet patients can’t receive a transplant as long as they have these dental issues.
Pestka went to the Auxiliary board and made a passionate plea for support to help these patients with dental care. With the board’s commitment, he worked with Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation to establish the Kidney Transplant Dental Fund.
Now caseworkers for each patient maintain a select list of dentists who perform the necessary dental work at a discount. Then the Foundation fund pays the dental fee. “It means one more person gets on the transplant list,” Pestka says.
Pestka has two years left in his term as Auxiliary co-president and isn’t slowing down with helping others and enjoying his family. “I feel so good and I get to have Sunday dinners with my family, ” he says. “I’m grateful for just being here.”
From Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation’s Giving Magazine, 2009, Issue 2