Two women, one kidney, a lot of love in Norway

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NORWAY — Renee Banovich didn’t bat an eye when she found out her mother-in-law, Shirley Banovich, needed the Gift of Life.

LIFE SAVING — Renee Banovich, left, gave her healthy kidney to her stepmother, Shirley Banovich, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, as Shirley suffers from polycystic kidney disease and needs a new organ.
LIFE SAVING — Renee Banovich, left, gave her healthy kidney to her stepmother, Shirley Banovich, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, as Shirley suffers from polycystic kidney disease and needs a new organ.

And on Tuesday, Sept. 6, the two Norway women headed to Portland’s Maine Medical Center so Renee could give Shirley one of her healthy kidneys.

From Shirley’s Harrison Road home – Renee lives less than a stone’s throw away – the two women sat down last week to talk about their upcoming surgeries last week.

Before they delved into too many details, they showed off their brightly colored nails they had done at Great Lengths in Oxford to mark the occasion. Shirley’s are hot pink and across two nails it reads, “Thank you Renee.” On her ring fingers two kidneys are painted. Renee’s are bright green and blue ying and yang, with her ring fingers sporting the green kidney disease awareness ribbon.

The family knew this was coming eventually – the need for a kidney transplant – as Shirley has had polycystic kidney disease for more than 30 years. It’s a hereditary, genetic disease, (she has lost three brothers and a sister to it), which causes the kidneys to enlarge due to the fluid-filled cysts.

“I found out [I had it] because I wanted to donate a kidney to my sister and I couldn’t do it,” Shirley says in her thick Tennessee accent. “I’ve done well for the last 30 years until last year when my kidneys started failing and when they starting failing, they went down fast.”

Shirley’s daughter, who still lives in Tennessee, has the disease as well and will have both her kidneys removed.

“Hers have gotten so big they’re smothering her other organs. … Hers are compressing her lungs she [can] hardly breathe,” Shirley says. “Mine are already extremely big but they’re not compromising my other organs yet.”

Even so, Shirley – who will turn 65 later this month – has been traveling to Lewiston three times a week for roughly a year for dialysis and Renee always drives her. Shirley has suffered from two aneurysms because of the kidney disease and knew she would need a transplant soon.

“Dialysis is very hard on your body. It’s hard on your family,” she says.

PRETTY NAILS — Stepdaughter and stepmother duo Renee and Shirley Banovich show off their nails they had done to mark the occasion of Renee donating her healthy kidney to Shirley.
PRETTY NAILS — Stepdaughter and stepmother duo Renee and Shirley Banovich show off their nails they had done to mark the occasion of Renee donating her healthy kidney to Shirley.

Shirley says she didn’t ask anyone to donate a kidney to her. But Renee’s youngest daughter beat her to the punch in offering up her organ to Shirley. But when Renee’s daughter found out she couldn’t lift anything for six weeks, she knew it wouldn’t work, as she has two babies to care for.

“’Let me see what my blood type is. It would be easier for me because I don’t work and I don’t have little kids,’” Renee remembers saying.

They found out Renee and Shirley share the same rare blood type – O negative.

“She has never had a second thought [about donating]. I think some people have tried to convince her not to,” Shirley says about Renee.

Renee agrees. She lost her daughter in a deadly car accident in 2007 and wanted to donate a kidney anyway, even if her stepmother wasn’t a match. Renee notes her two sons served in the military – one in the Army and the other in the Marines with tours in Iraq.

“I guess we’re just into sacrificing,” she says modestly. “You hate to see people go through a loss. It’s a hard thing to go through.”

“They’re a giving family, thank God,” Shirley says.

Renee adds it’s unfortunate people aren’t aware that they can give the Gift of Life and help others out.

“They should go into the dialysis rooms and see people. It’s very hard,” Shirley says, adding many patients have lost their arm or leg or other limbs to diabetes.

Shirley says she could be home as soon as today, Thursday, Sept. 8, or Friday, Sept. 9. Doctors want her out of the hospital as soon as possible to avoid contracting any other illness because her immune system was lowered for the transplant to avoid rejection of the organ. Renee will have to stay in the hospital a little longer.

“The surgery is harder on her than it will be on me,” Shirley says about Renee. “They have to move all her organs around. They don’t have to move mine.”

Neither one of the women are nervous about their surgeries and Shirley is excited. Even if it’s only been a year or so, it’s been a long road and she wants to put dialysis behind her.

“I can’t express my words because I am so grateful,” Shirley says.

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