For most 18-year-old males, being confined to one’s room every night for nine hours, regardless of parties, events, trips or activities sounds like a nightmare.
For Andrew Kippur, this was a reality.
Now a high school senior, Andrew had everything a normal young man needs, except for one thing: A working kidney.
“He couldn’t stay out late because he had to be hooked up to the machine every night,” said his sister Shelly Kippur, a senior biology major and speaker this weekend for the National Organ Donor Awareness Competition. “He was always tired and down.”
Andrew’s troubles didn’t start with his kidneys. He was born with bladder problems and was only six weeks old when he had his first surgery. However, a bladder infection moved to his kidneys and caused them to malfunction. Until he was able to receive kidneys from a donor, dialysis became a must.
“I went on peritoneal dialysis, which uses osmosis to clean the blood,” Andrew said. “I didn’t actually need it until I was 14, which was amazing to my doctors.”
Andrew had to come home every night and hook up to the equipment for nine hours while he slept.
“Your kidneys take out waste and create urine,” Shelly said. “The machine Andrew would hook up to would pump fluid through and do three to four fills per night. The last fill would stay in his body throughout the next day.”
Although Andrew’s dialysis confined him to his room and restricted him from any overnight activities. Shelly acknowledges that many on dialysis have it even worse.
“Some have to go into the hospital each time they do it, and then can’t do anything during the day,” she said. “At least Andrew got to sleep while he did it.”
Andrew’s illness was not only difficult for him – it was hard on the entire family.
“It was always a part of my life, since he was born,” Shelly said. “We were always at Children’s (Hospital). It made him a miserable child.”
Andrew’s mom, Linda Kippur, said having him on dialysis was frustrating.
“I got used to Andrew having no energy and falling asleep in class. He never felt very well,” she said. “He couldn’t go on many overnight trips and had limitations on what he could eat and drink.”
After two-and-a-half years of dialysis and 17 different surgeries, the call finally came that saved Andrew’s life.
“We got the call while Andrew was at school, and he got on a plane for Colorado that same afternoon,” Shelley said.
Andrew’s kidney was immediately flown from California in a simple cooler, and his transplant surgery took place that night.
“It was both exciting and scary,” Linda said. “We hoped for the best.”
Shelly said the surgery is normally fairly “easy” on the receiver, but Andrew’s was a little more complicated due to what his doctor nicknamed “the Andrew factor,” meaning that anything that has lower then a one percent chance of going wrong on Andrew, will.
“He had to have three more surgeries after his transplant, which is extremely uncommon,” she said.
However, the kidney was a “perfect match” for Andrew, and now, thanks to the donor, he is living free of dialysis.
“I can stay out all night. I can do anything I want to. I can even stay awake in class,” he said. “There’s a significant change in my attitude.”
The Kippurs know little about Andrew’s donor, except that he was 19 and male.
“They don’t want the two families connected for many reasons,” Shelley said. “It was a gift for Andrew, but someone else had to die.”
Andrew said throughout his struggles Shelly would support him by calling after every surgery and visiting him in the hospital.
“She was always there for me and always supportive,” he said.
Since his transplant, Andrew and his sister feel they have grown closer.
“I finally get to know Andrew, rather then sick Andrew,” she said. “He’s made me realize you can’t take life for granted.”
With so much more energy and ability, Andrew has big plans for the future, including college, which would have been extremely difficult while on dialysis.
“I want to go to UNC and maybe become a math teacher,” he said. “But I don’t like to plan too much. I like winging it.”
Shelly encourages students to participate in NODAC and become organ donors.
“We’re in our 20s and we feel invincible. We don’t really talk or think about donating our organs. NODAC clears up misconceptions and brings awareness,” she said.
Linda describes the NODAC events as a “positive experience.”
“Any awareness and public education is awesome and beneficial to everyone,” she said. “Andrew got a great kidney form a young donor. From newborns on, people need organs.”
Although she will never know anything more about her brother’s donor or his family, she said she is incredibly appreciative of them.
She said, “If I could talk to the donor’s family I would say ‘Thank you. I am sorry for what you lost. You saved Andrew’s life. You turned an awful situation into something great.'”
Margaret Canty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.