It’s not easy for Frank Romero to ask for help. He’s a private man, and has quietly endured two years of dialysis waiting for a kidney transplant.
But the trips to Grand Junction are beginning to wear on him, and none of his friends or family are a match. At the urging of his wife Maxine, the pair put out a call on Facebook and in the press for someone with B or O type blood willing to be tested as a live donor.
“He’s not a real public person, and it took a long time for him to get to this point,” Maxine said of her husband.
“All my friends and relatives said, ‘Don’t give up, and do what you can,’” Frank added.
The fact that March happens to be National Kidney Month might have helped encourage the move.
The demand for kidneys is high. It may take years for Frank to come up on the transplant list and get a match, and even then it’s likely to be from a deceased donor, which decreases the chances of success.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that they can be a live donor,” Maxine observed.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, most healthy kidney donors lead normal, healthy lives after the procedure, with no decrease in life expectancy.
Frank was diagnosed with kidney failure in November 2012. He was on medication for diabetes, and one night Maxine woke to find him barely able to move.
“He couldn’t talk, I thought he was having a stroke.”
His blood sugar had dropped well below normal. When the blood tests came back later that week, they also showed a dangerously high potassium level. He spent six hours in the ER with high risk of heart failure, and started dialysis that afternoon.
Since then, Frank Romero has received dialysis three times a week at the DCI clinic in Grand Junction. He’s limited to 32 ounces of fluid a day, and has to avoid phosphorus and potassium in his diet, since they’re not removed in dialysis. It’s difficult to find foods that don’t have phosphorus or potassium in them.
“They’re in pretty much everything,” Maxine said.
Even so, he counts himself lucky compared to many patients the clinic serves. The Romeros have strong support from their family and friends. Since Frank’s diagnosis, four people have been tested for a match: Maxine, Butch Pressler, Steve Kesler and Maxine’s cousin Alice Kuersten. In their most recent disappointment, Kuersten matched in every test but the last.
Jerry Rew, a friend of the family, volunteered but had the wrong blood type.
“As soon as I found out I needed a kidney he was right there,” Frank recalled. “There’s a lot of people I’m sure would step up,” he added, citing numerous friends and family that don’t meet the health requirements for donation. A 15-year-old boy from their church also offered a kidney, but is under the minimum age.
The Romeros attend the Church of the Open Door in Rifle, and credit the community and the pastor, Del Whittington, with helping them through the last two years.
“We’ve had great support from our church,” Frank said.
The church is just one of many deep roots they have in their community. The pair are both Rifle natives, and grew up on the same street.
“We’ve known each other since grade school,” Frank observes. They were high school sweethearts, and have been married for 49 years. They have three children — Mike Romero, Emelie Kulasik and Janelle Cook — and five grandchildren.
Frank was drafted during the Vietnam War and served as a switchboard operator in Germany. Returning to Colorado, he worked at the Mid-Continent mine in Redstone until it begin scaling back in the early ’80s. He worked for Garfield County’s Road and Bridge department from 1985 on, and had health insurance through them.
He’s also eligible for Medicare, as are most patients with kidney failure. It’s a good thing, because the treatments are expensive.
“I’d have been broke,” Romero observed.
In the meantime, Frank remains on dialysis and will wait on the list for an available matching kidney. He and Maxine are committed to make it through one way or another.
“Our faith in God and the many prayers of friends and family have helped keep us stay optimistic through it all,” Maxine said.
There is no out-of-pocket expense to a potential donor for testing.
Anyone interested in donating can contact Neshiyqah Nash, living donor coordinator assistant at University of Colorado Hospital, 720-848-0855 or Neshiyqah.Nash@uch.edu, and specify Frank Romero as the recipient.
“Our faith in God and the many prayers of friends and family have helped keep us stay optimistic through it all.”