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Freeland woman home after donating kidney

Wendy Baesler of Freeland and her brother, Dan Hansen, relax at Hansen’s home in California eight days after the kidney transplant. - Photo courtesy of Dan Hansen
Wendy Baesler of Freeland and her brother, Dan Hansen, relax at Hansen’s home in California eight days after the kidney transplant.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Dan Hansen

Most of Wendy Baesler was back home for Christmas. Her right kidney stayed on in California, with her brother Dan.

“I’m feeling normal, feeling good,” said Baesler, home in Freeland after a transplant operation Nov. 3 at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. “I’m happy I did it.”

“I’m doing well,” said her brother, Dan Hansen, from Palo Alto, where he lives and practices law. “I saw the doctor today, and everything’s on track.”

About five years ago, Hansen, then in his late thirties, was found to be in end-stage renal (kidney) failure, and he was urged to consider a transplant.

Baesler, who has the same blood type as her brother, a transplant requirement, stepped forward. When his kidney function dwindled to 7 percent this year, they decided to go ahead with the transplant.

Baesler said the surgeon was able to do her three-hour operation “laparoscopically with manual assist, which means he inserted his hand through an incision on my stomach to reach the kidney and better manipulate it for removal.”

Then she was taken to a recovery room while her brother was brought in and the kidney installed. His surgery was also successful.

“One of the residents agreed to take some pictures during surgery,” Baesler said. “Dan has a picture of my kidney on a table, and a picture of the cooler in which it was kept on ice until it was transplanted. He also has a picture of the kidney being placed into him.

“I must say, in my whole life I never expected to see such pictures,” she said.

It was a busy week at the Stanford transplant center, Baesler said. The day after her operation, the surgeon, Dr. Stephan Busque, did another transplant from a brother to a sister and one from a cadaver to a man.

After a rough few days wrestling with her pain medication, Baesler said she felt about 70 percent by the Monday after surgery, and 90 percent by the following Thursday, when the surgeon cleared her to fly home. She returned to Freeland on Sunday.

The surgeon said her creatinine, an essential part of red blood cell structure, was at the level expected for a person with two kidneys, and he told her, “It’s like you were designed to be a kidney donor,” she said.

Baesler said she’ll have follow-up blood tests in three months, and a checkup at Stanford next summer. She’s supposed to avoid caffeine and ibuprofen.

Hansen, 43, said he’ll be on immune suppressant drugs the rest of his life, and for the time being is supposed to stay away from people as much as possible, at least until January. He takes a variety of other medications, which require regular adjustment, and said he has good days and bad days.

He said one of his daughters became ill, so she spent a lot of the time in her room, wearing a mask.

“I’m just trying to play it safe,” he said.

“I don’t feel any different,” Hansen continued, “One thing — I had a rash from the disease, and it cleared up almost immediately.”

“I’m kind of isolated and sequestered here,” he added. “I’m trying to keep myself busy.”

He said he has been doing some work from home, and hopes to return to the office next month.

Hansen said that before the transplant, he was on a restrictive diet.

“I’m excited now, I can eat anything I want,” he said. “I have to watch my helpings so I don’t get fat.”

Wistfully, he said he probably won’t be able to go up in his small airplane for some stunt flying for at least four months. Kidney transplant recipients must reapply to the Federal Aviation Administration for medical clearance before piloting.

“I’m optimistic,” Hansen said. “A number of people who have had transplants have gotten clearance.”

Meanwhile, he’s keeping his head in the air vicariously, reading biographies of famous pilots such as Chuck Yeager, and hanging out with his family.

Hansen and his wife, DeAnna, have two daughters: Paige, 11 and Brooke, 5.

“I feel great,” he said. “My red blood cell count is up, and that makes me feel better. It should be normal in about two months. I can feel it cranking up. That gives me a little more energy.”

“I’m fortunate to have a family member to step up,” Hansen said of his sister. “The guy in the next room at the hospital waited seven or eight years before a kidney was found. He’s doing great now.”

The National Kidney Foundation estimates that about 350,000 people in the United States have end-stage renal disease, and about

67,000 people die of kidney failure every year.

In a typical year, nearly 47,000 Americans are awaiting a kidney transplant. Because of the shortage of donors, only a small percentage receive them, and the wait can take years.

Baesler, 40, and her husband, Jeff, a fiber-optics specialist with Whidbey Telecom, have four sons: Adam, 14; Jacob, 12; Andrew, 8; and Sam, 6, all in South Whidbey schools. They moved to Whidbey Island from Renton 13 years ago.

She opted for a December transplant instead of March, because she’s scheduled to return to the University of Washington for winter quarter, where she teaches two classes in accounting each year.

Her husband and her father, who lives in Utah, accompanied her to Stanford. Her mother came to Freeland to look after the children. She flew home to Utah the same day Baesler returned, and they met at the airport for a couple of hours to catch up.

“It was nice to come home,” Baesler said. “The kids put up a ‘Welcome mom’ sign.”

She said she wasn’t too excited to see all the snow, and admits to a little cabin fever.

“Maybe I should have stayed in California another week or two,” she said with a chuckle. “I thought about that a couple of times.”

She said she’s permitted to eat normally, and her only restriction is to avoid lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds for the next month. She’s looking forward to resuming her exercise routine, especially running.

“I’m a little more tired than usual, but that’s normal,” Baesler said. “I’ve been really cautious, and haven’t been out much. A slip and fall could mean an open wound.”

“I’m hoping the roads will clear soon so I can go for a walk,” she added. “I’d love to go out right now, but it’s too slippery.”

Hansen said the transplant experience has enriched his relationship with his sister.

“We got together several times after the surgery,” he said. “It’s definitely brought us closer. To share this experience, this connection is terrific.”

“I’d encourage everybody to think about being a donor,” he added. “A lot of folks out there are waiting for kidneys.”

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