Del Du-Bois lost a kidney 46 years ago to the same disease that is now rapidly claiming his other kidney, leaving the Piscataway resident desperately searching for a living donor.
“When I was approximately 18 years old, I wound up with a bleeding kidney,” recalled the 68-year-old during an interview. “At that time they didn’t have the imaging techniques they have today, so they performed an operation and removed my left kidney because they couldn’t stop the bleeding.”
Du-Bois and his wife, Barbara, had assumed his troubles had been caused by an injury sustained on the high bars during his younger days as a gymnast. But in the 1980s, when he began having issues with his remaining kidney, they learned that medical science had discovered the cause of the bleeding he had experienced; it was polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary disorder that causes the development of noncancerous cysts that lead to enlargement of the kidneys and loss of function.
The disease is exacerbated by high blood pressure and cholesterol, and Du-Bois, who retired as supervisor of the quality control unit of a pharmaceutical company, has been able to keep his condition in check through monitoring of his diet and lifestyle.
Despite all his efforts, his condition began to deteriorate about five years ago, but his doctor told him to live his life as he normally would and he would let him know when the time came to worry.
This spring he got the bad news that “it’s time to worry.”
Du-Bois, a longtime member of Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen, was faced with an unenviable scenario: either go on dialysis in the near future — a “stopgap” measure that brings with it its own health risks — or receive a transplanted kidney, a move his doctor recommended.
In some cases, an immediate family member will donate a kidney, making it easier to match.
However, because polycystic kidney disease is genetic, that is not an option for Du-Bois. His brother also has the disease, while his older son Russell, 43, is showing symptoms; son Michael, 27, shows no signs but family history precludes him from donating.
The alternative is to be placed on a growing waiting list for an organ from a deceased donor, a process that can take five to seven years.
According to the National Kidney Foundation’s website, as of May 21 there are 100,602 people waiting for lifesaving kidney transplants in the United States. Last year, 14,029 kidney transplants were performed in the United States, with 9,314 coming from deceased donors, 4,715 from living donors. Nearly 2,500 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month, and 14 people die each day waiting for a kidney transplant.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ organ donation website also noted that those receiving kidneys from living donors can expect a better outcome, with 92 percent still alive five years later as compared to only 83.4 percent of those who received theirs from a deceased donor.
Du-Bois is being helped in his search by the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, which sent out an e-mail appeal to 8,000 supporters and posted it on its website, said executive director Susan Antman.
Neve Shalom’s Rabbi Gerald Zelizer is also getting the word out, placing a plea on a listserv of more than 600 Conservative rabbis. “I did get one response from a colleague in Texas who wrote me that he was actually a recipient of a kidney and is vigorously canvassing his own community,” said Zelizer. “I’m sure others are as well.”
The Transplant Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick is handling testing of both Du-Bois and potential donors. Donors will not incur any medical expenses; the recovery period is two to six weeks.
“It is very difficult to ask someone to do it because it is a tremendous sacrifice,” said Barbara Du-Bois. “But once you let people know you need help, if they can’t do it they will try to find others who can help you.”