OXFORD — In 2011, at the age of 62, Dean Page learned that his kidneys were starting to fail.
For the Oxford resident, the news was a surprise, but due to the prevalence of kidney failure in his family, it wasn’t completely unexpected.
“It’s a hereditary thing,” Page said. “No one’s ever done a biopsy to find out what the problem really is, but we know that many people in our family have kidney failure. I have two sisters that do dialysis.”
Page’s daughter, Kathy O’Neal, learned her kidneys were failing around the same time as her father, and at a faster rate.
O’Neal’s best friend, Alta Jack, tested herself and learned that she was a near perfect match to donate a kidney, and on April 14, 2015, surgeons successfully transplanted a kidney from Jack to O’Neal.
Page, who is now 68 years old and undergoing dialysis three days a week for four and a half hours at a time, has been added to Maine’s transplant list, but he’s facing an increasingly narrow time-frame to receive a kidney.
“In a couple more years, if I don’t get a kidney, they won’t keep me on the list,” Page said, sitting next to his daughter in their backyard, his arm newly bandaged from his latest round of dialysis. “They don’t want to give you a kidney if it’s not going to work right after they give it to me. After a certain amount of time, I’ll be considered too much of a risk.”
O’Neal, who is as healthy as she ever was with a new kidney, added, “There’s a window. We don’t know how long we have.”
A diminished life
Page said that he retired from his job as a construction worker at 62 after he learned his kidneys were starting to fail.
“I went to Togus [in Augusta] and they told me my kidneys weren’t fully functioning, and after about four years of getting checked out, I learned my kidneys were only functioning at 6 percent. They said, ‘If you don’t start doing dialysis now, we won’t be able to bring you back,’” Page said. “I told them that I felt fine, and they said, ‘I don’t care how you feel. You have to do something about this now.’”
Since 2015, Page has gone to dialysis three days a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays – for four and a half hours each day, an endeavor that leaves him exhausted and with little energy to carry him through the rest of the day.
“He’s tired all of the time and he doesn’t have the energy that he used to,” O’Neal said. “He doesn’t feel good. He can’t travel. He was forced to retire. It’s affecting his life.”
Page said that he spends his free time tinkering with cars in the garage near his house and that it “gives me something to live for.”
Before Page learned his kidneys were failing, he served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 in the Army’s 4th Division Infantry.
After he came back from Vietnam, he worked for more than 20 years drilling artesian wells with his father.
After that, he spent the next 20 years as a construction worker, operating trucks and heavy equipment while helping to build “every one of the Big Apple gas stations that went up in the last 15 to 20 years.”
Now, retired at an early age and stuck on dialysis three days a week, Page said that he tries to stay busy but finds himself tired most of the time.
O’Neal added, “He used to work 75 to 80 hours a week. It’s really hard to watch him struggle.”
Page said that if people are interested in testing themselves to see if they’re a match with him, they can contact the Maine Transplant program in Portland.
O’Neal said that her father’s blood type is O positive, meaning he can match with people who have an O positive or O negative blood type.
She added that if anyone wishes to get tested or go through with being a donor for her father, her father’s insurance will “cover all of the donor’s medical bills.”
“It won’t cost them a dime to be tested or to do the transplant,” Page said. “Obviously, they’d be out of work if they go through it, but if someone were to come forward, we could raise money to cover gas expenses or the time that the person spends out of work.”
O’Neal said that ever since her father announced that he was on dialysis and needed a kidney, well-wishes and prayers have poured in from the community, along with a few offers to get tested.
“We had one lady who just had a baby and had to wait a year, and a few other people that were disqualified for medical reasons,” O’Neal said. “There’s definitely a lot of people who have been asking about him and checking in, but we just don’t know of anybody who is willing, at this point in time, to come forward.”
O’Neal said that the transplant would be done at Maine Medical Center, where there is a whole floor specialized to transplant patients.
“There’s a huge team of people working with you,” she said. “You’re very supported and never left alone.”
Page said that he’s going to continue going to dialysis while he waits to find out if he receives a donor, “because it’s the only thing keeping me alive.”
He said that he’ll continue to keep himself busy, despite the discomfort he experiences.
“I mean, they talk about people entering their golden years,” O’Neal said to her father. “For your golden years, you’re doing dialysis. I just want my dad to find a kidney.”