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Granddaughter gives gift of life

Published: January 29, 2011 11:01 PM

Anne ChlovechokThe Daily Jeffersonian"It usually looks like the Griswald's house up here at Christmas," said Bonnie Thompson of New Concord, referring to National Lampoon's cult movie favorite, "Christmas Vacation.""We usually hang thousands of lights and put up all sorts of decorations. But this year Paul couldn't do all that. One thing we did the same as always was put up the nativity on the front lawn. My son, Scott Stevens, put it up for us. This year, of all years, we needed the nativity."Christmas had to be a little less lavish than usual this year at the Thompson home because on Dec. 14 Paul underwent an organ transplant operation to receive a new kidney. The donor: His stepgranddaughter, Leah Green.Paul, a math teacher at Cambridge High School for 35 years and at Ohio University's Zanesville campus for 29 years, has suffered most of his life from polycystic kidneys, a hereditary condition Paul shares with most of his family. His mother was on dialysis for 17 years and many of his relatives have died from complications of kidney disease.Because his condition is hereditary, it was impossible for him to find a donor from within his family. Of his three biological daughters, two have polycystic kidneys."You pretty much know by the time you're 30 if you'll have polycystic kidneys,"See GIFT, page A-3GIFT, from page A-1Paul said. He said that if a person has one parent with the condition, he has a 50 percent chance of developing it. Paul has three sisters without the condition, but they are beyond the optimal age for donating a kidney.Paul's disease reached a critical level in 2010. His quality of life has been suffering for years due to the increasing number and size of the cysts in his kidneys. He had to quit playing basketball, a sport he enjoyed recreationally, about 12 years ago for fear of being hit in the gut and rupturing a cyst.In June of last year Paul was placed on the waiting list for a donor kidney. In July a large cyst burst and the fluid affected his sciatic nerve, rendering him unable to walk for a period of time because of the resultant pain.A second cyst burst shortly thereafter and the pain was so bad Paul thought he was suffering from appendicitis. His kidneys increased in size dramatically due to the hundreds of cysts they contained. A normal kidney weighs about 8 ounces. Paul's kidneys were 8 and 9 pounds, respectively."They were so large that they were putting so much pressure on all my organs," he said. "I couldn't get a full breath."In October Paul was placed on dialysis. "It keeps you alive but it wears on your body. I watched it wear my mother down for years," he said.Paul and Bonnie did not initially inform their grandchildren of the seriousness of Paul's condition. But Leah, daughter of Bonnie's daughter, Shannon Green, figured out the situation and wanted to help."I knew Grandpa wouldn't let me give him one of my kidneys," said the 20-year-old sophomore at Kent State University, majoring in early childhood education. "So I talked with my mother and grandmother first and convinced them I really wanted to do this. Then I told Grandpa I wanted to give him my kidney and I wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."Once Paul had agreed to accept his granddaughter's gift of life, the question remained as to whether she would be a match for him as a donor. The family was informed by experts that it was unlikely. Leah's blood was drawn and the family waited to hear the results.According to Paul, it is rare for blood family members to be good matches for organ donations. Leah is Paul's stepgranddaughter, making it even more unlikely the two would be a match. So on the day Leah received a phone call telling her she was a match for Paul, she was thrilled. "I screamed into the phone," she told Frank Yonkof, reporter for the Daily Kent Stater newspaper. "I was so scared it was going to be bad news. I was dancing and running!"Bonnie said there was never really any question in Leah's mind that she would be a match. "She's not Paul's biological granddaughter," she said. "But in our minds and hers, she is his granddaughter."So while most kids her age were working at Christmas break jobs or simply enjoying time off from school, Leah reported to The Ohio State University Medical Center's Transplant Center in Columbus on Dec. 14, to join her grandfather whose kidneys had been removed on Dec. 8. The two lay in side-by-side operating rooms. Leah's kidney was removed without incident, and placed into her grandfather's abdomen where it immediately pinked-up and began doing its job.Leah was recovering comfortably at home within a few days. Paul remained a bit longer in the hospital, but was home for Christmas.Leah will return to Kent State, where she is a resident assistant in charge of 40 freshmen in her dormitory, this week. She is doing fine and feels great.Paul's prognosis is also good. "There's a 95 percent success rate for this procedure after a year," he said. He reports back to OSU on Jan. 20 for his post-operative check-up. "My blood tests are all good," he said. "So far, so good!"He is hoping to get the nod of approval from his doctors to begin teaching at OU again this spring."I call Leah my angel," he said. "Not many people would do what she did, even for a family member."And Leah is glad she went through with the procedure, in spite of any possible risk she may have incurred. "If you can save somebody's life," she said, "How can you say 'no'? Especially since it was my Grandpa."achlovechok@daily-jeff.com

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