Eastern Oregon woman waits for a kidney

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PILOT ROCK, Ore. (AP) - Tara Fox didn’t give the idea of organ donation much thought until about six years ago. These days, however, the 21-year-old Athena woman speaks frankly to teens about the idea of organ donation and doesn’t hide her emotions as she tells her personal story.

At age 15, Fox rode horses on her family’s wheat farm, played school sports and competed in snowboarding at the national level. She rarely saw a doctor and avoided even aspirin. Then one day, she fell ill.

“I felt like I had the flu,” she recalls.

She powered through softball practice that day, then fell into bed. The next morning, she stayed there. Along with flu-like symptoms, her forearms, hands and feet began to swell. When she tried to walk, “it felt like I was walking on marbles.”

After testing, doctors diagnosed her with an autoimmune disease that was attacking her kidneys. The following months brought rounds of immuno-suppressant drugs and steroids. She went into remission for a while, but then her kidney function crashed again, now working at 25 percent and declining. At 20 percent, she will likely go on the organ transplant list.

This week, Fox and Aimee Adelmann of Donate Life Northwest broached the idea of organ donation to Pilot Rock High School students. Adelmann, 29, is a veteran of two kidney transplants. Her body rejected the first, donated by her father. The Donate Life Northwest representative came armed with factoids.

“Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the wait list,” said the Portlander. “Eighteen people die every day waiting.”

In the case of organs, demand far exceeds supply. Fox pressed a couple of keys on her laptop and a bar graph glowed from the screen: a tall bar represented 130,000 people needing transplants and a stubby bar showed about 14,000 donors (6,000 living and 8,000 who were deceased). Fox flipped to another slide. This one illustrated how many Oregonians are waiting for organs. Currently, 226 women and 483 men need kidneys. Ninety-nine men and 34 women await livers. Twenty-seven men and four women need hearts.

Oddly, while men outnumber women, “we know males are a lot less likely to become donors,” said Adelmann.

One donor can save up to eight lives. Harvesting of bone, tendons, ligaments, veins, corneas, skin and other body parts can enhance the lives of up to 50 people.

This was a somber, yet intriguing topic for a roomful of teenagers, who traditionally don’t dwell on their own mortality. They had plenty to think about. People can register to become donors as young as 13 without parental permission.

Neither Fox nor Adelmann presses the point. Fox, especially, feels uneasy about accepting such a huge gift of life from another. She continues to resist, though she knows an organ transplant is really her only course of action.

“I don’t want to hinder someone’s life,” she said. “It’s something I’ve had to think through.”

Fox knows she is headed down a rough stretch of road as her kidney function declines, but she seems determined not to let her condition define her. She runs and cycles, rides horses and continues to snowboard, a sport that took her to nationals three times as a teen.

“I don’t want to be the sick kid,” she said. “I try to live my life the best I can.”

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