ST. LOUIS - David Mouser, ended up saving three lives - his wife's, a total stranger and his own - when he decided to donate one of his kidneys.
Dave, 50, a stationary engineer from Edwardsville, IL, donated in a surgery performed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital Feb. 3. The surgery was delayed for three days because of a major winter storm.
Dave's wife, Shelly, 43, a registered nurse, needed the transplant after battling kidney disease for 20 year. When she suffered toxemia during her first pregnancy at age 20, doctors found that she had a condition that was causing her kidneys to slowly fail.
“I took good care of myself,” Shelly says. “I ate right, tried to exercise. So I was able to go to nursing school and work.”
Her kidney condition progressed, slowly, but unrelentingly, until about two years ago, when doctors told her she finally needed a transplant.
Dave Mouser immediately volunteered to donate a kidney. But while evaluating him as a potential kidney donor for his wife, doctors made two unexpected discoveries. The first – Dave wasn’t a good match for Shelly. The second – he had a tumor on one of his adrenal glands.
It was a rare type of tumor that wasn’t cancerous and didn’t produce any symptoms. But the doctors told Dave that had they not found it during the evaluation process, the tumor most likely would have continued growing until it ruptured.
“The doctors said that if it had ruptured, it would have killed him instantly,” Shelly says.
Dave had surgery to remove the tumor a couple of month later. The surgery, said the doctors, saved his life.
In the meantime, Shelly’s sister tested to be a kidney donor for her. She was a match, but several minor health issues kept delaying the surgery.
“It was just one thing after the next,” Shelly says.
Shelly’s kidney function finally dipped low enough that she had to start dialysis. Her options at that point were to wait and see if her sister’s problems resolved enough for her to donate, or go on the waiting list for a deceased donor.
The average wait for a deceased donor at Barnes-Jewish is about three to four years. At other transplant centers around the country, the wait can be up to five years.
Then, Jean Bowe, Shelly’s kidney transplant coordinator, suggested that Dave and Shelly might want to think about entering the paired kidney exchange program at Barnes-Jewish.
In paired kidney exchange, a hospital uses a computer program to scan incompatible pairs at their own hospital or at other institutions for a donor that can be matched to a recipient in another pair. The pairs can exchange donors, resulting in a compatible match for both recipients.
Three weeks after getting on the paired kidney exchange list at Barnes-Jewish, Dave and Shelly found out that there was a matching donor/recipient pair at an East Coast hospital. Dave would give his kidney to the recipient on the East Coast, and the East Coast donor would give a kidney to Shelly.
The exchange was originally scheduled for Monday, Jan. 31, Dave and Shelly’s eighth wedding anniversary. But a huge winter storm shut down air traffic in the Midwest and then the East Coast.
So on Thursday, Feb. 3, Dave donated his kidney in the morning at Barnes-Jewish. The kidney was flown to the East Coast hospital by chartered airplane. A kidney taken from the donor at the East Coast hospital came back on the plane’s return flight and was transplanted into Shelly that afternoon.
Surendra Shenoy, MD, performed the donor surgery. Jason Wellen, MD, performed the recipient surgery.
Since the operation, Shelly is off dialysis and doing well. Although her husband’s kidney didn’t go directly to her, his generosity and willingness to donate is what allowed her to get a living donor kidney and get her life back, she says.
The couple has since found out that Dave's kidney went to a person who had been on dialysis for eight years. The woman was hard to match because of antigens in her blood. The time on dialysis and with total kidney failure had taken an immense toll on her body and she wouldn't have lived much longer without a transplant. Dave had most certainly saved the patient’s life, doctors told them.
So how do the Mousers feel about their transplant experience and Dave’s decision to donate?
“We have a strong faith,” Shelly says. “I think we were a little freaked out at times. But we feel that it all worked out the way it was supposed to.”