As a boy, Oscar Chandler knew the stress a family experiences when a loved one suffers from end-stage kidney disease.
“My stepmother was a diabetic who was on dialysis for years until she had a kidney transplant,” he said. “Before her transplant, she was always tired, never feeling truly well.”
Chandler, of New Castle, was in his 30s when he learned his kidneys had been damaged by medication he was taking for colitis. He was only 38 when his disease had progressed to the point where he would either start dialysis or undergo a kidney transplant.
“Even though there have been a lot of improvements in dialysis over the years, I dreaded the thought of it,” he said.
Chandler worried that dialysis would interfere with his ability to do his job at an engineering firm. Would he be able to keep up with his young son? Would he be a burden to his wife?
The waiting time for a deceased donor is lengthy — typically five years or more. Patients can avoid the wait with a live donor — a relative, friend or altruistic stranger who is willing to donate a kidney.
Having a live donor offers another significant advantage. The organs are healthier and tend to last much longer, says Velma Scantlebury, M.D., associate director of the Kidney Transplant Program at Christiana Care.
“Because we remove the kidney in one room and transplant it in the room next door, the transfer takes less than one hour,” Dr. Scantlebury said. “With a deceased donor, it is at least eight hours and can be up to 24 hours or more because of transportation time.”
Chandler was blessed with two willing donors: his wife and a family friend. He already had undergone surgery to implant a shunt for dialysis when the couple received good news. Amy Chandler and her husband were a match.
“I was very excited to have the opportunity to do something for my husband that would allow him to be active and enjoy things like going to our son’s baseball games,” Amy Chandler said.
In preparation for the transplant, doctors recommended that the Chandlers lose weight. They hired personal trainers and began exercising in earnest. In less than five months, Oscar lost 50 pounds. Amy, who had less weight to lose, took off 15 pounds.
“We needed to get in the best shape we could,” he said.
Laura Bishop, the transplant team’s registered dietitian, worked with Chandler to establish eating habits that would place less strain on his kidneys. That included restricting his intake of protein and potassium.
“Very little meat, no bananas,” he said.
The family also prepared emotionally. The couple was especially concerned about their son, Chase.
“My son was worried about both Mom and Dad having surgery and having to recover,” he said.
Dr. Scantlebury suggested Chase write down his questions and come in for a visit. His list filled an entire notebook.
“They sat down together and she answered every single one of his questions,” Oscar Chandler said. “Then, they went up and he met the nurses who would be taking care of us. He saw the rooms where we would be staying.”
Oscar Chandler was about Chase’s age when his stepmother had her transplant. He remembers the strain of her having to make multiple trips to Baltimore for tests and treatment.
“I was incredibly grateful to live less than 10 minutes from a first-rate transplant center and not have to put our family through the added burden of travel,” he said.
The transplant took place on April 10, 2012. Less than three weeks later, both spouses were back at work.
The healthy habits they formed in preparation for the transplant stuck. There are no soft drinks in the Chandler home, only water and milk. Fast food is a rare indulgence.
These days, the Chandlers enjoy hiking at Lums Pond State Park near Bear. They went zip-lining in the Poconos. And when Oscar Chandler goes to visit the transplant center, he takes the stairs instead of the elevator.
“Before I had the transplant, I was a couch potato, because I was always tired,” he said. “Having the transplant has improved the health of our whole family.”