'There's not really an option. He needs a kidney': Relatives race to seek donor for Elgin man

A family races to find a living donor for Elgin man

  • The family of Dave Thompson of Elgin is looking for a kidney donor for him. Thompson is pictured here at home with his wife of 47 years, Pat, before he was hospitalized Wednesday.

      The family of Dave Thompson of Elgin is looking for a kidney donor for him. Thompson is pictured here at home with his wife of 47 years, Pat, before he was hospitalized Wednesday. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/27/2018 4:52 PM

When you ask Dave Thompson's wife and daughters to describe him, they will say he's unequivocally been there for his family during hard times.

Thompson, 68, traveled back and forth from his Elgin home to Florida to help his ailing mother for about 10 years before she died. He moved his father into his home and cared for him before he, too, died. He assiduously visited a cousin in a Veterans Affairs facility in downstate Illinois. When a car crash took the life of his sister and nephew, he stepped in to help his two other nephews.

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"He put his family before anybody," said Pat, his wife of 47 years.

Now, Thompson's family is desperate to help him. With uncertainty about whether he'll get onto a transplant list, and the prospect of a yearslong wait even if he does, Thompson's wife and daughters are ramping up their own full-scale effort to find a kidney for him.

Finding a living donor -- he needs someone with blood type O -- will give him the best hope for a return to a normal life, his family and his doctor said. His wife and daughters said they would gladly donate a kidney, but they are not a match.

"He's always put everyone else before him," said his daughter, Stephanie Raap of Plato Center, who is spreading the word online at stepht23.simplesite.com. "I've been posting everywhere on Facebook. ... I keep saying next I will put flyers on my car."

Thompson has had chronic kidney disease for about 15 years. A second stroke in September aggravated the disease. He's lost nearly 40 pounds since then, and things recently took a turn for the worse. He was hospitalized Wednesday at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva and is expected to start dialysis soon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This has been beyond stressful," Raap said, "because there's not really an option. He needs a kidney."

Dave Thompson, 68, of Elgin is looking for a live kidney donor. His wife, Pat, and daughters, who are not a match, are spreading the word in any way they can.
  Dave Thompson, 68, of Elgin is looking for a live kidney donor. His wife, Pat, and daughters, who are not a match, are spreading the word in any way they can. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

Thompson worked for the Chicago Tribune for 34 years and retired in 2007 as circulation information manager. He and his wife are longtime members of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Elgin, where he was financial secretary and treasurer.

Thompson said the last few weeks have been difficult -- he's tired all the time and has insomnia -- but he's comforted by the thought that people have started coming forward to be tested for donation. "You'd be amazed how many good people there are out there," he said.

Thompson's nephrologist, Dr. Ivan Begov of Batavia, said a medical team is evaluating whether Thompson can get on the cadaver transplant waiting list, which is generally recommended for younger people. The waitlist in Illinois is about five to six years and longer for older people, he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He would be much better able to tolerate any surgery now, versus six or seven years from now," Begov said.

Patients usually find living donors among relatives and friends, but strangers sometimes come forward, Begov said, adding one patient found a donor on Facebook.

Thompson also could get a transplant thorough a "kidney exchange," or a chain of living kidney donors each matching one other person, Begov said. Raap said she was tested this week to see if she can be in an exchange for her father.

Dave Thompson, 68, of Elgin is looking for a live kidney donor. His wife, Pat, right, and daughters Debbie Peterson, left, and Stephanie Raap said their father has always been there for the family. None are matches for a transplant.
  Dave Thompson, 68, of Elgin is looking for a live kidney donor. His wife, Pat, right, and daughters Debbie Peterson, left, and Stephanie Raap said their father has always been there for the family. None are matches for a transplant. - Rick West | Staff Photographer

Barbara Zeman, independent living donor advocate at Northwestern Medicine, which can test potential kidney donors for Thompson, said people usually can live "a pretty normal" life with one kidney, because eventually the organ grows to be the equivalent of 85 percent of two kidneys.

Donors typically stay in the hospital for one night and must have 24/7 support at home for the first week. They are asked not to return to work for two to six weeks, and they can't lift more than 10 pounds for six weeks, Zeman said.

It's important for donors to step forward of their own free will, with no pressure or coaching, and it's illegal in the United States to buy or sell kidneys, Zeman said.

A donor could extend Thompson's life by 20 or more years, his family said. As for how long he can go without a new kidney, "nobody has said that," Thompson said.

Meanwhile, Thompson said, he's hanging in there.

"You just have to do whatever you got to do," he said. "I just try to enjoy my kids and grandkids. Enjoy things while I can."

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