The Christmas gift of a lifetime

(Above) Christmas came early for Eric Perry (right) as his friend, Brent Rolland, donated a kidney to him.  -Reporter photo by Michelle Watson

Clear Lake friends unite to battle kidney disease

by Michelle Watson

       Eric Perry received a special gift this year that wasn’t found under the tree or wrapped with a pretty bow.  This gift came with a no-return policy, but it also came with a lifetime warranty of friendship and love.  This Christmas, Eric received the gift of life from his good friend, Brent Rolland.

     On Thursday, Dec. 19, Brent donated a kidney to Eric, who has been struggling with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PCKD), an adult onset disease that creates and spreads cysts all over your kidneys.  The new kidney will not be affected by the disease, allowing Eric to live a normal, healthy life.

     When Eric was a little boy, his grandmother was diagnosed with the disease.

     “I watched as my grandmother died from this disease and I knew then that I didn’t want it,” said Eric.  “At about the same time, my mother was diagnosed with PCKD.  It was then I found out I had a one-in-three chance of getting the disease.”

     After watching her mother struggle through dialysis, Eric’s mother chose not to rely on dialysis.  She endured the symptoms without treatment until a donor kidney could be found.  Eventually, she received a kidney and has been living well for 28 years.  Eric has two siblings that also have the disease: a brother who is on a donor list and a sister who is not ready for transplant yet.

     Eric and his wife, Renee, have two sons, Carter, who is 13 and in eighth grade, and Reece, who is 10 and in fourth grade.  The boys have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease.

     “As a family we have had to make some hard decisions.  We made sure our boys were involved with the whole process,” said Renee.  “This is a manageable and hereditary disease.  I wanted our boys to be educated through each process and not be scared in case they have it someday.  I am so grateful that I am a nurse.  It has helped me be able to explain to Eric and the boys everything that is happening.”

     Eric, who is now 48, was diagnosed with the disease when he was 28.

“Love cannot remain by itself - it has no meaning.  Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.” - Mother Theresa

Eric and Brent’s support team waited together for news of the two surgeries. Pictured (L-R): Sandy Rolland and Renee, Reece and Carter Perry. -Submitted photo

     “I was told to maintain my blood pressure as the best procurement.  Over the years my doctor’s visits to my nephrologist grew closer and closer together as they maintained checking my kidneys through blood labs,” said Eric.  “Fatigue is a main symptom and my energy level was burnt to exhaustion every day.”

     Eric said it got to the point where he would come home from teaching, sit in a recliner and fall asleep, only to wake up, eat and go to bed.  That is when he began treating his symptoms with dialysis.

     “I’ve been on dialysis for about a year.  It works, but only so much.  That is why the best treatment is transplant.  I am lucky I only had to do dialysis for a year.”

     That is where Brent Rolland comes into the picture.  A concerned friend who was ready to not only lend a hand to a friend in need, but also lend a much-needed kidney.

     Eric and Brent’s story began 22 years ago when the two were both teachers and coaches at Clear Lake.  The two also golfed together on Men’s Day at Veterans Memorial Golf Course for many years.

     Last January, Renee posted on Facebook that Eric’s kidney disease had progressed to a point that he was in need of a transplant.  Due to risks with the anti-rejection drugs Eric will have to take, it was best to wait as long as he could for the transplant.

     “It was then that I started to contemplate the idea of being a donor,” said Brent.  “I began doing some research and some serious soul searching with the man upstairs.  By the time we were back in Iowa, after spending the winter in Florida, I had decided that this was the right thing to do.  Actually, my faith helped make this a very easy decision.”

     “When Brent told me that he was planning to donate a kidney to Eric, I’d have to say that I was caught off guard and bewildered by the whole concept,” said Brent’s wife, Sandy.  “But it didn’t take long to realize that Brent and Eric were ‘all-in’ with the idea.  When the pieces all fell into place I knew that I was along for the ride and happy to provide any support I could.”

     Eric said he remembered the day Brent approached him about donating.

“We were on the putting green and Brent asked me what he needed to do to check and see if we were a match.  I was caught off guard and I told him to wait until I was in a more serious condition.   At first I thought he was just being a good friend and I thanked him for wanting to help me out.”

     It wasn’t until Brent started doing a lot of research and showing initiation that Eric knew Brent was in it for real.

     “Without Brent wanting to help me through this, I’d be sitting and waiting for a deceased donor.  My doctor explained it was not ‘if’ I needed a transplant, rather ‘when’ I would need one,” said Eric.

     After finding out they were the same blood type, Brent enrolled online in the University of Iowa Hospital’s living donor program.  Brent had to push the process himself, as organ recipients cannot speak directly to the donor coordinators. Both recipients and donors have their own coordinators.

     “I want to speak to all the people looking for donors.  Don’t be shy.  Be aggressive to find someone.  If it hadn’t been for Renee’s Facebook post, I may not have known about Eric’s need,” said Brent.  “I’m surely not the only guy in the world willing to do this for someone.”

     Brent’s modesty and giving spirit hasn’t gone unnoticed by others.

“Helping people is in Brent’s DNA,” said Sandy.  “If a friend or family member has a need, Brent is the first person to jump in and help.  So when his friend Eric had a need, Brent was the first one to volunteer.  It was only natural.”

     “This past year has been the hardest and thanks to Brent, we are excited to see what the next year has to bring,” said Renee.

Brent was only in the hospital one night and was released on Friday.  He just needs to take it easy for a few weeks and he should be at 100 percent in another four weeks.  The prognosis for Eric is good.  His new kidney started working quickly and was even producing urine in the operating room. He was moved out of intensive care and into a regular room Monday.  An ultrasound showed that the kidney was functioning well.  As of Monday, the Perry’s still didn’t know when they would be able to return home.

“We are excited the surgery is finally over, but we know it’s still a long road to recover,” said Renee.  “We may not be home for Christmas, but we already received the best Christmas present ever.  Our Christmas presents are wrapped and will be waiting for us when we get home.  I’ve already been communicating with ‘Santa’ to let him know he may need to come a different night to our home.”

     Brent said he has found the whole experience to be life changing.

     “I told Eric one day that the transplant was between you, me and God.  Your wife and my wife can come along for the ride, but I’m not changing my mind,” said Brent.  “That was the moment for me when Eric and I went beyond being friends to being family.”

     Brent went on to explain that through this journey, he has realized how wrong he was about this only being between him, Eric and God.  Through all the support, prayers and positive thoughts from family, friends and the community he realized this experience has reached far beyond just he and Eric.

     “We graciously want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts,” said Brent.  “Knowing that we have a virtual sea of humanity behind us provides a deep and humbling sense of peace.”

     “It has been amazing to see and feel the support we have received from our family, friends, community and our church (Zion Lutheran),” said Renee.  “We definitely couldn’t have gotten through all of this without all of their help and prayers.  This experience has definitely brought us closer as a family and to God.”

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