The Main Stream

Mar 29, 2013 12:49 AM by Associated Press

Greatest gift: Woman donates kidney to boyfriend

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) - Jen Rasmussen didn't tell Dylan Prescott last fall that she was making the first steps toward giving him one of her kidneys.

Although Jen, 35, and Dylan, 36, aren't officially wed, the Wausau couple have been together for seven years and are married spiritually, if not legally. She had watched Dylan's health deteriorate the past three years and was with him when he found out that years of untreated diabetes had ravaged his kidneys.

"We had to watch him every single day," Jen said, referring to herself and daughter Jaysa Rasmussen, 9. "Finally, I thought, 'I'm going to go get tested, because I need to do something.'"

When she made it her secret decision to pursue a donation process, Dylan's kidneys were working at about 14 percent of their capacity, the Wausau Daily Herald reported (http://wdhne.ws/14tLyVd). Several relatives and friends had looked into donating a kidney to Dylan, but their efforts were thwarted for one reason or another. Dylan was reaching the point where he would need dialysis to survive, and he was so weak he could barely get out of bed to eat.

The couple spoke about Jen donating a kidney to Dylan before Jen started looking into the process on her own, and Dylan was against it. He was thinking of their children - Jaysa, Jen's older son, D.J., who lives with his grandmother, and Dylan's three children from a previous marriage, Zeke, Reyna and Eli Prescott. He was concerned that they all could lose both a father and a mother should something go wrong.

But when Jen found out that she was a match and approached Dylan again about it, he relented. An American Indian, Dylan relied on his faith, a mix of native traditions and Christianity, to help him decide. That spiritual grounding, he said, helped him believe "that it's going to be OK, no matter what."

Jen had a more secular perspective. "I was just like, well, we can get through this and get better. Or, we can wait around."

On Feb. 13, the day before Valentine's Day, Jen and Dylan underwent the transplant surgery at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison. They are recovering now at their home in southeast Wausau, thanking God, their family, friends and medical workers who have helped them get through the past three years.

Dylan, the director of the American Indian Resource Center of Marathon County, woke up about three years ago and discovered that he couldn't see the alarm clock. He turned his head to the left a little, and the clock appeared. That's odd, he thought, but he figured something was wrong with his contacts. As he shook off the grogginess of sleep, he realized that he was blind in his left eye.

He immediately made an appointment to get an eye exam.

"They told me, 'You have blood in the back of your eye,'" Dylan said, and they quickly sent him to the Eye Clinic of Wisconsin. Doctors there told him they thought he was having a diabetic reaction and sent him to Aspirus Wausau Hospital.

A diabetes specialist there told him he had the disease, probably for 15 to 20 years.

"It was like, 'Hmmm,'" Dylan said. "Sometimes, the symptoms come on so slow, you don't notice it and you just get used to it."

Dylan was immediately put on a regimen of insulin and other medications. The entire family went into health mode, Jen and Dylan said, changing all their eating habits, exercising more. The couple started to talk to the children about diabetes and eating right.

The work paid off. Dylan's blood sugar levels started to come down to healthy levels, but he still needed eye surgeries to regain vision, and he began to have other problems related to the disease, such as Bell's palsy, which affects the muscles in his face.

Most of the other problems diminished with time, as Dylan adapted to a healthier lifestyle and treatments took hold. But the kidney damage was not only irreversible, it worsened. In November 2011, the couple went to the Mayo Clinic to see whether specialists there could help Dylan's kidneys. They were told that the best hope was to slow the degradation, and that Dylan's kidneys would last another year.

"I did everything I could do, but it was too late," Dylan said.

By November 2012, Dylan's condition had reached a point where "I would have to force myself to get out of bed, take a shower and eat. But that made me so tired, I had to go back to bed," he said. "I did a lot of praying. I pretty much put everything in God's hands. I went with the flow."

Jaysa, a quiet girl, recalls "a couple years ago, (Dylan) couldn't see that well. He needed glasses and started getting worse and worse and worse."

Dylan and Jen explained to Jaysa and their other children what was happening with Dylan. They talked about why they were eating better, why Dylan was so tired.

They included Jaysa in their prayers and healing ceremonies. Friends and family members all got involved and started showing support.

They also talked to educators at Jaysa's school, John Marshall Elementary, to let them know that Jaysa would be missing some days of school. Ken Krouse, the school counselor, talked with Jaysa's teacher and checked in on her, to make sure she was OK.

Krouse said there is no right or wrong way to approach such a difficult situation with a child.

"I probably would be one who is leaning toward the more kids know, the better," he said. "They don't have to know the details, but to share in a way that's not too distressing. ... I give kids a lot of credit. They are so much more aware than we realize. The biggest thing is that they sense things."

Dylan and Jen say they had plenty of friends and families helping out with Jaysa, too. But it was heart-wrenching when it came time to leave her with Dylan's cousin just before they left for Madison for the surgery.

"I was scared," Jaysa said.

After the surgeries, Dylan's cousin drove Jaysa to Madison so she could see for herself they were OK.

"I was happy to see them," Jaysa said.

Before the surgery, Jen was scared, too. She wasn't having second thoughts, but the idea of the surgery began to frighten her. Another thought also plagued her.

"My biggest fear about the whole thing was, 'What if he rejected my kidney?" Jen said.

Despite her worries, the surgery went well.

"I remember coming out, but still sleeping and hearing people in the room. His mom was just crying and crying, saying 'Look at her, she's laying there like an angel,'" Jen said. "I knew it was all OK then."

The whole group, including Jen, went down the hall to see Dylan. He was looking better already, Jen said, but he was groggy and out of it.

"He just said, 'Baby," Jen said.

"It was like a dream," Dylan said.

That was late on Feb. 13. When Dylan woke up at 3 a.m. Feb. 14, he insisted that the nurses show him to Jen's room.

"I wanted to go see her," Dylan said. He woke Jen.

"I told her, 'Happy Valentine's Day,'" he said.

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