Opinion

Poker Run spotlights kidney disease difficulties

When dogs greet, they immediately hone in on secretions. Scents that run across their noses tell them if an acquaintance is friend or foe, fearful or cocky, strong, weak or ill.

A dog’s sense of smell enables it to decipher subtle clues based on pheromones and stress chemicals.

With humans, we can read much of the same on a face. Deep furrows running vertically between the eyes let us know that the liver is stressed.

Artists use lines to represent these furrows to illustrate angry and mean faces, because when the liver is unhappy, everyone is unhappy.

Likewise, the swollen lower lip tells us that the digestive system struggles and certain pursing of the lips and lines around the mouth let us know that a person uses substances from methamphetamines to cigarettes.

Yet a face doesn’t tell the whole story. The edema and gray tone to River Curtis-Stanley’s face showed us that an illness gripped her.

Her zealous commitment to causes and people overshadowed how seriously. We would have been heartbroken to realize that she was in the midst of kidney failure brought on by her 13-year struggle with diabetes.

It wasn’t until the edema subsided and color returned to her face that she proclaimed joyously, “I am on dialysis,” and shared details.

“Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, she explained. “About 30 percent of diabetics will have their kidneys fail. So it’s imperative that diabetics have regular blood tests every six months to check kidney function.”

“Most people with impaired kidney function can retain what they have and hold off the need for dialysis for years, if not indefinitely, if they change their diet, follow their doctor’s recommendations and take their medications.”

However, some people, like River, do all of those things and yet they find themselves limping along on less than 15 percent kidney function.

With their appetite and energy disappearing, they can sleep for 14 to 16 hours a day.

Dialysis, the process of removing the poisons that a healthy kidney would filter from the body, makes a significant difference in returning a person to health, but as Danny Hoffer explains, “You don’t want to live on dialysis for any length of time. It doesn’t offer a good quality of life.”

Hoffer, who grew up in Chimacum, experienced kidney failure at the young age of 28 years old after working in body shops for years in Southern California painting cars for celebrities like Erik Estrada and Eddie Money.

“I loved the work,” he said. “I was very good at it. I just didn’t realize how dangerous the paint inhalation and solvent absorption would be to my body. No one did at the time. It took out my kidneys.”

Anemic and coughing up blood as well as expressing it in his urine, he was diagnosed with “Goodpasture Syndrome” and told to move back home to be closer to family and prepare to die.

Once here, Hoffer got better. The disease went into remission. It returned in 1993. He went on dialysis for six months and found himself the beneficiary of a donor kidney.

It lasted seven and a half years.

Hoffer went back on dialysis again, peritoneal dialysis that he can do at home. Two and a half years later, on July 10, he received his second kidney transplant.

He feels, he says, “like a million bucks. You don’t realize how sick you are until you geta kidney and feel so good. People don’t want to tell you how bad you look.”

“Although they do,” Hoffer quietly explains, “want to help you. I have wonderful friends and a great family. They keep offering kidneys. I have to say no. I don’t want them to sacrifice a healthy kidney and have this disease blow it out. I wouldn’t want to risk that.”

He is grateful for the added days to his life. He’s grateful for the donation of the kidney by the accident victim. The life expectancy for kidney patients on dialysis is typically five years. The average wait for a donor (cadaver) kidney is six years.

Curtis-Stanley will start her wait soon. She, too, has wonderful friends and family who offer kidneys.

She must grow stronger and before she can even consider a donor kidney she must deal with another problem that plagues kidney patients, needed dental care.

“You can’t have any infections when you go in for a kidney transplant,” Curtis-Stanley said. “All dental work must be done. Since dental health insurance coverage is harder to come by, that alone keeps people off the list.”

Fortunately, four years ago, she met the love of her life.

“We knew immediately it was meant to be and we would marry,” Curtis-Stanley said. “He makes me happier than I have ever been. If I have to go through a chronic medical condition, I couldn’t ask for a better person to be with me.”

Insurance through her husband’s work helps cover costs. Still, they mount. Dialysis can run around $68,000 a year. Insurance co-pays, medication and special protein supplement costs add up to over $500 a month for the couple.

“Most of our household income goes for medical, transportation and food costs,” Curtis-Stanley explains.

Still she recognizes she’s lucky. Both she and Hoffer mention homeless kidney patients on dialysis.

“You have no energy when you’re in kidney failure,” Curtis-Stanley explains. “People typically can’t keep working. They lose their jobs and their insurance. Medicare will help cover dialysis, but electric bills and others still must be paid.”

This is why Hoffer, an avid motorcyclist, decided that he would organize a run. To be held on May 4, starting at 10 a.m., the third annual Olympic Kidney Poker Run will benefit the Olympic Kidney Support Association, which operates “to support needy kidney dialysis patients when they are unable to afford medicine, medical services and basic utility bills.”

He found ample support from other “bikers” and designed a beautiful scenic route for the Sunday in early May.

Starting at the Club House Grill in Port Orchard, the ride will showcase the beauty of Kitsap and Jefferson County as it winds through “the gorgeous country I grew up in,” looping through Port Hadlock and Quilcene before stopping at the Harley Davidson shop, Legends in Silverdale, and ending up (around 4 p.m.) back in Port Orchard, where Danny Stewart, the owner of the Bethel Saloon, will offer free hamburgers to all participants.

Riders can pick up a different poker card at each stop along the way, culminating in a five card spread.

Prizes will be awarded for the best and worst poker hand.

In the past, local businesses have stepped up to offer hats, loads of gravel, beauty bark, spa treatments, dinners for two and more.

For the past two years, the Run, which costs $10, has generated more than $4,500.

“The first year 90 bikers participated,” Hoffer said. “Last year we had 120. It would be great to see 150 people or more out riding with us this year.”

Hoffer emphasizes that people can participate in any capacity and at any point along the route. He mentions that people from all walks of life do.

“We get airline pilots, business owners and lawyers coming out,” Hoffer said. “People can even follow in cars. You can make donations. You can e-mail me and let me know if you’d like to ride along and we could find you a seat and a helmet. Or you can show up with a helmet and catch a ride. Or, people can greet us back at the Bethel Saloon, grab a free hamburger and buy a poker hand then. It’s all about helping out kidney patients, who really need the help.”

Before signing off, both he and Curtis-Stanley insisted on stressing that people need to check the box on their driver’s license that says they will donate organs. They both speak eloquently about the “gift of life.”

I pause. For years, I have held prejudices against both bikers and organ donating, but as I hear their stories I think, “Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can consider organ donation. Maybe I can go on a ‘biker run.’”

E-mail Danny Hoffer at dannyhoffer@yahoo.com or drop a note off at the Club House Grill if it is something you would do, too.

Mary Colborn is a

Port Orchard resident.

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