By Joe Morey
On Oct. 2 of this year, Barb Martin was able to give her husband Phillip the gift of life with a new kidney. Following over a year of tests and preparations, a successful transplant took place in Minneapolis at the Hennepin County Medical Center and the two of them have been doing great and recovering since.
Their story first began 20 years ago when they married in 1998. Phillip and Barb both work at the Sevenwinds Casino where they met not long after she moved to the Hayward area in 1989. Phillip has been here all of his life, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe.
It was in 1999 that Phillip was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and after 18 years, the disease took its toll on his kidney. While the pair were on a camping trip in July of 2017, Phillip collapsed and was rushed to Hayward and then transported to Duluth where they found fluid build up on his lungs. They found out then that he would need to be on dialysis.
“He was put on the transplant list,” Barb said.
While trying to find a match for the transplant, Phillip’s sister, Angel, who lives in Florida, found out that she was a match, but the doctors wanted other matches in case something didn’t work out, Barb said.
“I didn’t think that I could be a match because I have a thyroid disorder and they wouldn’t even take my blood,” Barb recalled. “One day I decided to call the transplant clinic and ask if it mattered and they said it didn’t, and they sent me the test.”
Barb said that several weeks went by and she hadn’t checked her email at all not knowing that was they way they would send her the results.
“Then one day I just went through my email and there it was, we were a match,” said Barb. “Phillip was outside doing some yard work and he was so excited when I told him, he said, ‘howah!’”
That day was August 11 of 2017. Barb had to do more testing and she recalls they took 15 viles of blood from her.
“They checked everything from A to Z,” Barb said. They also had to see social workers to make sure no one was forced into the decision and that they both were comfortable going forward.
Then in October of 2017 they encountered their first bump in the road. Phillip was collapsing and had his blood pressure checked. He was having cardiac issues and had to have heart surgery on Oct. 11 for blockage and a damaged valve.
“The transplant was put on hold for seven months and then all the testing done up to that point had to be done all over again,” Barb said.
Phillip had to undergo a stress test on his heart three times. Barb said they had to put chemicals in his body to make his heart speed up to make sure it was all good.
Eventually, the transplant was scheduled again for August 28 of this year, but when they were doing more tests just before the surgery, they found blood in Barb’s urine, which she explained was a very common thing in women her age, but they had to be sure, so more tests had to be done and the transplant was postponed again.
In September they got the okay, and not long after, Oct. 2, 2018, the successful procedure was done. Barb went in for surgery at 7:30 that morning and Phillip went in about 9:30. Barb recalls her surgery was over around 10:30 and about 12:50 that afternoon doctors came out to tell the family that they were finishing up with Phillip and that everything went well.
“The first couple of days of recovery were very painful,” Phillip said. “I had to get up and start walking around but the pain, especially when I coughed, was very bad. About the third day it wasn’t too bad anymore.”
Barb also recalls pretty intense pain. She said it hurt to breath. After a couple of days neither one of them used the pain medications that were sent home with them.
The first couple of days Phillip was in immediate care because they had to watch over everything to make sure the kidney wasn’t rejected. While in immediate care, Barb said the doctors were surprised that she got up and walked over to Phillip, but that’s how fast she was recovering.
“It was quite the experience, but I would do it again,” said Barb. “To be able to give Phillip a normal life is everything.”
She said he no longer has to be on dialysis and his diabetes is improving but they are still working on getting his blood sugars under control. Phillip said each day he feels better.
Phillip was on dialysis for 15 months prior to the transplant having treatments three times a week for four hour each time.
Nine days after the transplant, Phillip and Barb were able to go home to Hayward for a weekend and to attend a blood drive that took place at the Sevenwinds Casino in their honor. Now they see the doctor two days a week and can come home on weekends.
During their doctor visits, Barb said they check over everything, “Nutrition, diabetes and they adjust medications. They really are amazing people at HCMC, they really care.”
Barb’s doctor was Dr. Paul Stahler and Phillip’s doctors were Dr. Mark Hill and Dr. John Silkensen. Phillip sees Dr. David Dahl for his follow up care.
Barb said Phillip’s new kidney is doing the job it is supposed to be, it is cleaning out the poisons in his body. She said he has been lowered on his anti-rejection meds and is doing great.
“Phillip is less tired, and he has his color back. He’s almost back to normal,” Barb said. “It’s been amazing. Just never give up hope, there’s always someone out there who is a match.”
Barb said there are so many people to thank and that she wants everyone to know how much they appreciated everything from prayers to donations. They both also wanted to thank the whole community for their support, and to thank the St. Croix, Bad River, Lac du Flambeau, and LCO tribes for their support.