It was a classic story of boy-on-dialysis-waiting-for-a-kidney-transplant meets girl. The year was 1997. Larry Wetsch’s kidneys were in dire state, hardening due to a rare disease called glomerulonephritis.
Glomerulonephritis happens when the glomeruli (the part of the kidney that filters waste) are inflamed. The waste that the kidney would usually filter out of the bloodstream builds up, causing potentially fatal effects. Glomerulonephritis can affect anyone, and often develops after an infection. To learn more about this rare disease, click here.
Terri and Larry had just begun dating. Terri had asked him out to lunch, and the relationship immediately blossomed. They had only been together four months before Larry received his first transplanted kidney from his sister, Tina Brosch.
Two years later, Larry and Terri married. They began a happy life as best friends and partners together. Terri helped Larry live a healthy lifestyle to preserve his new kidney as long as possible. Between all the laughter of love, she made sure Larry followed a strict drug routine, ate very little salt and protein, and drank lots of water.
Unfortunately, even the healthiest lifestyle couldn’t prevent the toll that time took on his kidney– transplanted kidneys are only meant to last about 10-12 years.
Two years ago, it looked like Larry’s time was up: his kidney abruptly began to fail, and as the couple tried to cope with it, the situation worsened. The doctors found a kidney tumor, and diagnosed him with renal cell carcinoma. Renal cell carcinoma is a rare form of kidney cancer, which you can read more about here.
Beyond the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis, this caused another complication. A cancer diagnosis crossed Larry off the list of potential kidney recipients.
However, it was actually a stroke of luck that the cancer was centralized in the kidney. The Wetsch’s appealed with the help of their doctors: once the kidney was removed for the transplant, the cancer would be gone anyway. It was important that the transplant happened before the cancer had a chance to spread.
The odds looked a little better this time around. After 20 years, it was easier to find a kidney donor– whereas before, a donor would need to be an exact match, now advances in technology allowed more people to donate.
Larry had a type-O blood type, and so did Terri. This meant she could potentially donate her kidney, but Larry was reluctant to even see her go through testing for him. Terri insisted; she wanted to be there the whole way for him.
Larry’s siblings now had health problems of their own that prevented them from donating to him; and as the surgery date drew near, donor options were running out. He spent two years on dialysis, spending every day in debilitating illness as the state of his kidneys worsened. In the dire circumstances, it looked like Terri’s kidney was his only hope.
It happened on August 21st, the day of the total solar eclipse. The stars aligned in multiple ways for Larry. The woman he had fallen in love with years ago, his soulmate, was now able to sacrifice a part of her body in order to save his life.
The couple found the surgeon that had performed Larry’s first transplant twenty years before, and the operation went perfectly. Larry is feeling like himself again. He can eat and move around again. The couple joke that they’re no longer merely joined at the hip, but rather “joined at the kidney.”
Larry and Terri share their journey to inspire and spread awareness of the value of organ donation, as well as of taking care of your health all the time. As Terri explains to Rapid City Journal,
“You just never know when you might … need to give [your organs] away.”
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