Kevin Dahly had known he had polycystic kidney disease, a disorder that causes multiple cysts to form on the kidneys, for quite some time. A few years ago, his physician found the creatinine levels in his blood were high, indicating his kidneys weren't working properly.
"My doctor started watching it closer, making sure my kidneys weren't shutting down," Kevin Dahly said. "When my creatinine levels started rising, they started treating it with medications."
"It got to the point where my levels were climbing pretty high and I needed a higher dose of medication," he added. "That was hard on me. My doctor decided to stay ahead of the game and he started preparing me to go on dialysis."
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Kevin and Carol Dahly walk together a few weeks after surgery. Carol donated her kidney to Kevin and the procedure was done in May.
Dahly was treated by physicians at Trinity Health and went on dialysis there in December. His physician had suggested a kidney transplant. While dialysis would do the job of a kidney, it wasn't a comfortable long term solution. The Dahlys still hoped to lead an active life and continue to work, and they have three young sons at home.
"The dialysis was time-consuming," he said. "You had to plan around it and you can't leave town."
The Dahlys started to check into kidney transplants. They first visited a Fargo hospital, and then a Bismarck hospital. The waiting list to receive a kidney was estimated at five to seven years.
Carol Dahly decided that if she was a match, she would be her husband's kidney donor.
"Education on the issue is so important," Carol Dahly said. "I wouldn't have considered it if I had not been in this situation, and I didn't know the need was out there. There are a lot of people on dialysis. It breaks your heart to know they can't have a better quality of life, because there aren't donors."
The Dahlys eventually decided on Bismarck's Medcenter One and Dr. Nadim Koleilat, urology transplant surgeon.
"Here, in our center, we transplant about 20 kidneys a year," Koleilat said. "The highest number we have done was 28. We have a lot of kidney disease in the area, mainly because of diabetes and high blood pressure causing kidney disease."
Even the source of the donor kidney makes a difference, he said.
"The problem with cadaver donors is that the waiting list is getting longer and longer," he said. "When you identify a living donor, it's more convenient, and the kidney doesn't suffer. When you take a kidney from a cadaver, it's put on ice. At times, those kidneys don't work right away because they have been on ice."
Kevin and Carol underwent blood testing, and Carol's health was checked extensively before the transplant could take place. With the improvement in anti-rejection drugs, Carol only needed one of six markers to be a match.
The surgery was scheduled for May 11. Carol recalled feeling a little anxious about the procedure, but her fears eased up as she learned more.
"Once you find out the information that you only need one kidney, and it's not going to affect your quality of life, you feel better," Carol Dahly said. "And I knew it would help him tremendously. It was just the right thing to do."
"I was pretty anxious, because I didn't know what the recovery would be like," she added. "And I was worried about the anesthesia because I've never been put under."
Carol's kidney was removed via laparoscopic surgery, which left a smaller incision and promised a quicker recovery. It's still major surgery, however, and Koleilat explained that there were still possibilities for complications.
"For the donor, a lot of things could happen," Koleilat said. "I always tell the donors, we are removing a healthy kidney, and there are anesthesia risks, bleeding risks and infection risks."
Carol's procedure went well and she was discharged from the hospital after four days. She said her recovery went well.
For Kevin, the surgery was a success as well. The kidney started working soon after it was transplanted. His recovery time will take longer because of a larger incision and the adjustment to anti-rejection medications. He stayed in the hospital for five days.
Though he will have to continue taking anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life, he is grateful that the new kidney works well and he'll no longer need to be on dialysis.
"It's such a gift of life," he said. "I want people to know about donation, and how important it is to be a donor."