Life Saver

mvoorhis@sierrastar.comApril 22, 2014 

Last Valentine's Day, Mountain Area residents Sheila Moreno and Eric Wynne underwent surgery at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. Eric donated a kidney to Sheila, who had reached Stage 5 Renal Failure. At that point, her kidneys were functioning at about 11%, she was chronically fatigued, had continuous back pain, had trouble concentrating and suffered from memory loss.

During the kidney transplant, known as a donor nephrectomy, surgeons used a minimally-invasive technique to remove Eric's left kidney, which was passed to Sheila. "Now my kidneys are functioning at 75% and all my lab numbers are good," Sheila said. "While the doctors don't expect my new kidney to reject, there is that possibility at any time for up to three years. It's a constant concern, but I can't dwell on it."

Sheila will have her blood taken every week for a year to monitor her numbers. She also will have to take the steroid Prednisone — an anti-rejection drug — for the rest of her life, and is currently taking 15-20 pills every morning and another 10 every evening; this number will be reduced by five pills in a few months.

She was in the hospital for four days following surgery, and just had a stint from her bladder to her new kidney removed. Day-by-day, her energy increases.

"I feel one thousand percent different," Sheila said. "The whole process has been so smooth and I'm returning to work gradually. This experience has made me look at life differently. When I was in San Francisco, I learned more about transplant recipients who reject the new kidney, and end up back on dialysis. So when I start feeling sorry for myself or feel the downer of everyday living, I ask myself what I have to complain about. I'm feeling so much better, I'm alive. I'm not on dialysis — and I'm very, very lucky. This has been such a miracle."

From the beginning, kidney donor Eric looked at this experience as an "easy" way to save someone's life. Eric is now back to work full-time at Valley Yellow Pages in Fresno, with no limitations. He is also back to work as part-time martial arts instructor at Foothill Chi-tu do in Oakhurst.

Even though Eric admitted that the pain was more than he thought it would be, the day following surgery, he was on Facebook and was ready to go home.

While Sheila's energy has increased over the weeks, Erics has dropped. Doctors estimate it will take about six months before his one kidney — which will enlarge to make up for his missing kidney — is up to full-speed.

"I'm just so relieved and so thankful," Bobby (Sheila's husband) said, "and I actually feel rejuvenated from this. It was a bad thing to go through, but also a good thing. I learned a huge lesson about life and about the amazing people in my community."

Bobby, owner of Robert's Frosty, had intended to close the family-run business for a couple of weeks, but because Sheila was doing so well, he returned to work a few days earlier than planned.

Even so, Sheila is taking it a little slower before returning to work full-time at Bobby's side. In the meantime, Eric's wife (Tina) and sister (Sarah), have donated their time, filling in for Sheila's shifts. "I'm just so proud and appreciative of our community," Sheila emphasized.

"That should be the focus of the follow-up. Without this community, we never would have had enough to make it to San Francisco, or leave the martial arts studio without worrying," Tina added. "It's been an exciting, humbling and eye-opening experience on levels we just didn't expect. My faith in people has been restored, and all the relationships that have been built is absolutely overwhelming — and overwhelming is a good thing."

Eric and Sheila are slowly getting back into their old routines, with life going on as before — but with two huge differences. Because of this incredible life-saving gift, the Wynne and Moreno families have become fast friends and forever connected; and residents of the small town of Coarsegold have grown tighter and closer as they came together with one single purpose — to shower these two families with not only monetary donations, but with something infinitely more powerful and long-lasting — love.

"I set out to do this with two goals," Eric said, " ... to save a friend's life and to bring glory to the God who saved me. Both goals have been met with the amazing support of our community, our friends, and our families. Thank you doesn't begin to show the gratitude we have for everyone's generosity and prayers."

As of March 3, 2014, there were 121,411 patients in the U.S. on the government's deceased organ donor list waiting for an organ transplant, and from January through November 2013, there were only 26,517 organ transplants performed, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

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