If Jim Nolan isn’t getting the best Father’s Day present of all time, it’s on the short list.
On June 12, Nolan’s son, Joe, of Platteville, is donating a kidney that will allow Jim to get a donated kidney about 11 hours later.
The donor and donated kidneys are through the National Kidney Registry (www.kidneyregistry.org), which seeks to increase “the quality, speed and number of living donor transplants in the world” by creating chains of donors and those needing kidneys.
In the Nolans’ case, the chain began with someone walking into a clinic May 18 and announcing he wanted to donate a kidney. Joe’s kidney is going to someone in New York, and Jim is getting a kidney from someone close to his age of 58.
“If for some reason his body rejects it or something goes awry, I’ll be making a difference in someone else’s life,” said Joe.
Jim Nolan, of Wausau, is getting his second donated kidney. He discovered his kidneys were failing after a physical for life insurance shortly before he got married. The physical revealed high blood pressure, which was the result of his kidneys failing. His first transplant, from his sister, took place right after Joe’s first birthday in 1985.
“Doctors told me my kidney has lasted four times longer than the average for people who got a kidney that year,” said Jim.
After his transplant, Jim was able to live a normal life, working at Wausau Windows and Walls and coaching his sons’ sports teams.
He started experiencing kidney failure at the beginning of the year, and has been on dialysis since then. After he was laid off from Wausau Windows & Wells after 30 years there, he worked for SNE Enterprises in Mosinee, which is closing in August, “not that it would matter a lot right now,” he said.
Joe’s kidney is not going to Jim because they have different blood types. Jim matched no one in his family.
In November, Jim and Loretta Nolan’s two sons, Joe and Matt, went to UW Hospital and Clinics in Madison for pre-donation testing. “We both went on the list under the premise we’re in similar life situations,” said Joe.
“They started talking about another possible transplant, and I said I didn’t want my sons to donate,” said Jim. “I told them I didn’t bring them into the world to get spare parts for me. But these guys, they started researching it behind my back, and I found out from my wife they were going to get tested anyway. So I figured I might as well help them out.”
“We went through the process of getting blood tests from the family, my brother and I and anyone else willing to donate,” said Joe. “Turns out he’s kind of difficult to match. Really the only option to get a kidney is to get one off the deceased donors’ list, which can take a really long time, or to go to the National Kidney Registry.”
The waiting list to get a kidney from a deceased donor is three to four years long, with recipients needing to be available 24 hours a day to go to a transplant site. Transplanted kidneys also tend to last less time the longer a recipient is on the waiting list and on dialysis.
The risk to Joe is “pretty minimal. Really the only thing I’ll have to worry about is not getting super-dehydrated, or doing a contact sport — no kickboxing. Once I recover, I should be able to do everything I do now. The risk is minimal, but it is major surgery.”
Joe will be in the hospital for a week and not be able to work for three weeks. Jim will be back on anti-rejection medication, which was discontinued after his kidney started failing.
“I can pretty much eat about anything,” said Jim. “But like most people you still have to watch your weight, try to eat good foods. You just have to take care of yourself.”
Jim and Joe want to meet the people who are giving and getting, respectively, their kidneys. Jim is writing a thank-you note to his donor, but it will be delivered anonymously through his transplant coordinator.
Two people who will be able to only watch are Jim’s wife and Joe’s mother, Loretta, and Joe’s wife, Kim.
“She’s actually done really good, I think,” said Joe. “The whole thing is tons of mixed emotions. On the one hand, you’ll feel really good because you’re doing something amazing. On the other hand, we have goals, like having kids, and I don’t want to have something happen.”
“This time around I think she’s wiling to take on the support role for Joe’s wife,” said Jim. “He’s doing the amazing part now.”