Sammamish wife gives her husband the gift of life

October 12, 2010

By Tim Pfarr

Woman donates a kidney five days before couple’s 30th anniversary

Richard and Leslie Urie, of Sammamish, might have one of the more unusual stories to tell about how they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary Aug. 9.

Richard and Leslie Urie, who live near Beaver Lake, got married Aug. 9 1980, in Glendale, Calif. She gave him a kidney Aug. 4 at the University of Washington Medical Center. By Christopher Huber

Just five days before their anniversary, Leslie gave Richard one of her kidneys during a transplant procedure Aug. 4 at the University of Washington Medical Center.

“We both are doing remarkably well,” Richard said four weeks after the Aug. 4 surgery.

Except for Richard being a little tired and Leslie dealing with some nerve damage in her arm, the couple act as if life is nearly back to normal.

“We had a lot of people praying for us all around the world,” Leslie said.

The Uries found out Richard had kidney disease seven years ago. Richard took his son to college in Illinois and on the return trip he became sick and anemic. He soon found out he had lost half of his kidney function — it was a result of living for decades with diabetes, he said.

Richard said he wasn’t that surprised when, in 2003, the doctors told him he was in kidney failure. His mother died at age 82 of kidney failure and the disease ran in the family. Richard’s twin brother, Robert, found his kidneys were failing, too. Robert, like his brother, received a new kidney from his wife, Shirley, in 2007.

Patients receiving a kidney from a nonbiological living donor is on the rise, too.

“It’s becoming more common because of the wait time,” said Dr. Connie Davis, a professor of medicine at the UW and co-director of the kidney transplant program. “We’re starting to see quite a bit of it now.”

The UW does 90-110 kidney transplants per year, Davis said, with 35-40 kidneys coming from live donors.

When it came to the process of getting the transplant, the Uries were grateful they had plenty of time to prepare and stay as healthy as possible, without Richard going through dialysis.

Some people find out when their kidneys are nearly shot and go on dialysis for years before getting a transplant, Richard said.

“I am very fortunate, because I did know,” he said. He was technically on the UW transplant wait list for about six months, but “it was really like a five-year wait.”

The key to a successful operation and recovery, Leslie and Richard said, was searching for friends and family (live donors) willing to donate.

That ensures a much quicker process and may lead to getting a transplant before going on dialysis.

Six people were willing to give Richard a kidney, the Uries said. In the end, Leslie was the best one for the task.

“I’m very thankful,” Richard said. “The wait list is so long, the more live donors you have, the more people get them.”

Leslie has type O blood, which means she can donate to anyone — she’s a universal donor, according to the American Red Cross. So, despite the fact that Richard has type A blood, they matched. With organ transplants, doctors have to factor in other various things, like whether an organ will fit in a recipient’s body.

However, in this case, since it was a kidney, blood type was the biggest determiner.

“Nowadays, matching is not as important,” Richard said. “Basically, it’s blood type.”

Upon volunteering to give her husband a kidney, Leslie said the transplant department at the UW asked a lot of questions.

“They wanted to know if Richard coerced me to give or if anyone had asked for money,” Leslie said.

As of Sept. 30, 108,777 Americans were waiting for an organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Approximately 14,100 of them had received one between January and June 2010 from 7,136 donors.

In the end, Richard recovered quicker than Leslie. After getting a new kidney, he had new life in him, new energy. She went from two kidneys to one and also lost feeling and muscle use in her upper left arm.

The pain medications made her sick and she is still doing physical therapy to regain strength in her arm.

“I was not doing well,” Leslie said.

Richard needed no pain medications, he said. He also downplays the impact of such an invasive operation, which left a foot-long scar along his right side and abdomen.

“The basic thing is it’s not as difficult as it seems,” said Richard, a deli manager at the Albertson’s along Highway 202. “I felt fairly comfortable with what was going to happen.”

He said he has had difficulty not being able to work for six to eight weeks and having to nap twice a day.

But ultimately, both are grateful that Leslie could help Richard overcome his battle with kidney failure.

“We both had a sense of peace about it,” Leslie said.

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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