- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Tyson Niewoehner simply smiles when asked how he and his wife, Shelley, will celebrate Valentine’s Day this year.

He already demonstrated his love for Shelley in a way very few men ever have a chance to experience: He gave her a kidney.

The couple underwent the transplant operation Nov. 18, 2015, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, and the two continue to recover at their Bigfork area home.

Tyson insists it was no big deal. You see a loved one suffering and you do whatever it takes to make it better.

“I think a lot of people would do it,” he said about donating his kidney. “When you see what they go through on dialysis.”

He had witnessed his wife transformed from an active outdoors enthusiast to a subdued patient going through dialysis three times a week.

“Her body was completely zapped,” Tyson recalled. “I had this picture of her going through all that.”

Shelley was born with reflux nephropathy, a condition in which the kidneys are damaged because urine backflows from the bladder into the kidneys. The condition didn’t give her any trouble growing up - she didn’t even know she had it - and she gave birth to two daughters, now ages 22 and 23, without any problems.

The condition gradually began to affect her health. She was diagnosed in 2007 and by June 2012 began dialysis.

“I was pretty sick,” she recalled.

Shelley was immediately placed on the organ donor registry, but knew the odds of finding a donor weren’t in her favor. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are on the waiting list for kidneys. On average, 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Even more sobering, 13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant.

Tyson then began exploring whether he could be a donor and found he has O positive blood, which is compatible with Shelley’s O negative blood. Through cross-matching, a sensitive test performed on both the kidney donor and recipient, doctors can determine whether or not the recipient of a kidney will respond to the transplanted organ.

Doctors at a Spokane hospital declined to do the transplant, taking a more conservative approach to the cross-matching analysis. The Niewoehners then went to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, where physicians gave a favorable nod to the transplant.

The couple wanted another opinion, though, and opted for the Seattle hospital where the transplant later was completed.

There was a time lapse of about eight months because Tyson’s initial blood tests showed a small amount of blood was spilling into his urine. It’s not an uncommon thing to happen, and can be caused by a urinary tract infection or even heavy physical labor.

When Tyson’s blood tests showed the condition had corrected itself, the surgery was a go.

Tyson underwent counseling and a psychological evaluation “to make sure you’re in the right state of mind,” he explained. “They want to make sure you’re not pressured. The doctor said, ‘You can stop anytime you want to until you go under’” the anesthesia.

He never doubted he would go through with the organ donation.

“I came out of it feeling amazing,” Shelley said about the surgery aftermath. “He came out looking pretty rough.”

Tyson rebounded quickly, though, and learned afterward that doctors described the kidney he donated as “robust.”

“They said it was a powerhouse kidney,” Shelley beamed.

Instead of removing one of her kidneys, doctors spliced in Tyson’s kidney, leaving her with three kidneys.

“I have a kidney bump,” she said, showing a slight bulge on her stomach where her husband’s kidney protrudes.

After the Niewoehners were released from the hospital, Shelley was re-hospitalized for several days after she experienced surgery-related intestinal problems.

The couple was able to come home for the Christmas holiday season, but have traveled to Seattle every two weeks for checkups.

“After the three-month mark, they can release you to the local hospital,” Shelley said.

In early February, Tyson will be able to return to his job with Halliburton. He works with an oilfield fracturing crew in the Williston, North Dakota, area.

Shelley’s parents, Dick and Lillian Levi of Bigfork, traveled to Seattle to lend their support during the transplant surgery, and Shelley’s daughters, Taylor and Riley, also were there to offer support.

“I had faith that everything would turn out,” Lillian said. “I’d been praying for a long time for Shelley. If I didn’t have a belief system I probably would’ve been a basket case.”

Both the Levis and Niewoehners are feeling blessed by the outcome.

“He’s a pretty amazing guy,” Shelley said about her husband. “He never had any doubts.”


Information from: Daily Inter Lake, https://www.dailyinterlake.com

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