Married 14 years. Two young children. Anxious parents. And nine hours of dialysis each week, spread out over three days.
Craig Hostert, who turned 40 in August, has spent two-and-a-half years on kidney dialysis, a process that methodically drains, treats, and replaces all of the body’s supply of blood.
Kathleen Hostert, who plans to return to Cal State Fullerton next semester to earn her teaching credential, gave an early birthday gift to her husband on June 25: one healthy kidney.
For Kathleen and Craig, a Fullerton couple who graduated from CSUF, a kidney transplant was more than a hospital stay. It was a family affair.
Part of the problem in getting a donor resulted from Craig’s blood type. Having O-type blood meant that he would have to receive a new kidney from a donor of the same type.
Craig’s brother matched his blood type, but increasing blood pressure disallowed him from having the operation
.Soon after, the Hosterts went to UCLA to make a new gameplan. Kathleen turned out also to be a match, but at the time she was pregnant with their daughter, Nicole; an operation would have to wait.
It was not until this past May that the Hosterts learned the operation would take place.
Their two year-old daughter, Nicole, will probably never know about this ordeal except for what her parents tell her. For now, she is a typical playful girl who likes to talk and pose for guests.
Their son Justin, 9, plays first base for a local little league team, the Dodgers, and likes to shoot baskets in the family driveway. His parents said he had a difficult time at first coming to grips with the procedure. Apparently Justin wanted to make the sacrifice himself and was disappointed when told he could not give his own organ to his father.
Finally Justin turned to his mother during a meal and made an announcement: “If you want to give Dad your kidney I’m okay with it.”
For the Hosterts’ parents, too, times are hard. They understand the importance of the transplant, but they worry about the risks and outcome.
“They’re anxious, they’re excited,” Kathleen said. “Especially for my parents, it’s hard for them.”
At last June 25 arrived. The couple lay in pre-op together, prepared for the operation and waiting for their “appointment with Mack-the-Knife.” Kathleen was the first to be wheeled out.
Eventually the doctor came for Craig. He was still awake when he reached the operating room; he knew the woman he loved was already half an hour into her part of this life-saving surgery.
“It was weird,” he said of that last moment before the anesthetic kicked in.
The anesthetic kicked in; that was the last Craig could remember.
After almost five hours of surgery, Craig woke up next to his wife in their shared hospital room. Kathleen remembers the first thing he said: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Friends and family members visited every day, sometimes annoyingly often, Craig said.
“Everybody seems to come to the hospital in the afternoon,” Craig said. “You’re tired in the afternoon.”
Sometimes he snapped, Craig admitted, but he was tired and groggy and just wanted to recuperate.
After five days in the hospital Craig and Kathleen returned to the comforts of home.
One of Kathleen’s closest friends moved in for a short time, cooking and helping around the house while the Hosterts recuperated. Before and after the surgery, the two agreed, everyone was very supportive.
Their parents, who live in Fullerton, took turns taking care of the children during and after Craig and Kathleen’s hospital stay.
Now that Craig has a new organ, he must maintain it with medication. Among other things he takes an anti-rejection pill twice a day.
“Your body eventually wins in killing the organ,” Craig said.
“It’s really up to the family to make organ donation possible,” Craig said.
Kathleen added, “The pink dot on your license doesn’t really mean anything.
Simply dotting and signing the organ donor card from the Dept. of Motor Vehicles will not necessarily mean that your organs will be donated to a needy person should a life threatening situation occur, they said.
Craig stressed the importance of potential donors—and that could be anybody—discussing their wishes with family members and friends. In the end, he said, the family makes the final decision about donation, regardless of your personal wishes, so a lack of communication could result in lost opportunities for others.
The Organ Transplant Fund, located in Memphis, TN, provides an additional organ donor card that provides space for two witnesses to sign in the presence of the donor, further ensuring the wishes of the donor are met.
A national transplant organization, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) compiles statistics on patients within the last 10 years as well transplant trivia.
According to UNOS almost 55 percent of registered potential recipients in all organ categories are ages 18-49; more than 1100 patients received kidneys last year alone.
UNOS credits a Denver, CO recipient with the longest-lasting kidney transplant at more than 31 years.
In fact, the UC Davis Connections–a web zine serving the university’s organ transplant center–83 percent of kidneys supplied by unrelated relatives survive at least three years.
Marya Weil, a RN, is the transplant coordinator at St. Joseph Renal Transplant Center, which averages 30-40 transplant operations per year.
“The most troublesome side effect is the patient’s immune system is altered,” Weil said, necessitating anti-rejection medication be used for the rest of their life.
“For as long as they have that transplant, they have those medications,” Weil said.
Having an impacted immune system meant having to avoid germs and the people who carry them–including Nicole and Justin.
“The hardest thing for me was when I came home. I looked at (the children) and thought, ‘germs.’ I was paranoid,” Craig said.
But there are other potential complications, among them high blood pressure, hair loss, and—as Craig found out—the potential for serious weight gain.
“Everything tasted so good,” he said, “even sandwiches.” And it did not help his situation that their temporary live-in friend is an excellent cook.
Craig said he has a difficult time describing exactly how much better he feels now that he has a working kidney again.
“I wouldn’t say (I feel) better. I feel great.”
Craig and Kathleen hope that by bringing their story to the media other people might consider donating their organs when their bodies no longer need them.
“It’s something you have to seriously consider,” Craig said. “The way it changes your life is just incredible.
“We’ll always broadcast that,” Craig said.
Although their story is one of ultimate love between a man and a woman, the Hosterts discussed the reality that most organs come from strangers.
“People who have given up their organs have made their grieving process easier,” Craig said.
Even the Hosterts’ license-plate frame spreads a message of sharing: Recycle your organs, heaven doesn’t need them.
The Hosterts wear green ribbons to stimulate interest in people in their community. Their hope is that neighbors and others in the community might inquire about the symbolic meaning of the ribbons and learn something about the importance of transplants during a conversation.
“Evaluate all your options. Make the decision that is good for today, not for tomorrow. What people have to realize is the fact of life that we are all going to die.
“We say our prayers each night and thank God for each day that we have,” he said.
One of Craig’s best accolades, however, is directed toward Kathleen.
“I’m so proud of my wife,” Craig said. “Look what she’s done for me.”