Cincinnati resident Chris Blanchard had no reason to ever worry about kidney failure, much less needing a kidney transplant. The 37-year-old father of three was healthy (despite a soft spot for sweets and junk food) with no history of kidney disease in his family.
In 2013 after a doctor's visit for nagging migraines, Chris and his wife Kathy were surprised to learn that Chris' blood pressure was through the roof. More shocking, further tests revealed a diagnosis that changed everything: Chris had focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a rare kidney disease that scars the kidney's filters, eventually leading to kidney failure and the need for dialysis or a transplant.
Keeping Chris' kidney's functioning as long as possible became a team effort. The Blanchard's committed to making drastic diet changes, moving to the chronic kidney disease diet, one that's low in protein, sodium and phosphate.
"We hired a dietitian and Kathy was a big help with meal prep and finding recipes," says Chris. "Within the first eight months, I lost 40 pounds."
Although losing weight and medication helped lower Chris' blood pressure, his kidney function slowly declined over the next three years. Through it all, Chris says he did his best to put on a good face, keeping up with his job with Grippo Potato Chips and day-to-day family life. But he was tired, bone tired.
"Friends and family had no idea how bad I was," remembers Chris. "My kidneys had a hard time filtering toxins from my blood. I had headaches, too." Hot, 45-minute showers were the only thing that gave him relief.
Kathy says those years were a frustrating waiting game. "We felt helpless because we wanted to be looking for a donor and start testing for a transplant," she says. "His kidneys were getting worse, but he wasn't bad enough for a transplant."
Kidney Advocate Doesn't Have to Look Far
By late 2016, tests revealed it was time to take steps toward a transplant and the next waiting game—finding a donor. Family and a few friends knew about Chris' need from the beginning and offered to get tested when the time came to see if they were a match.
But Chris struggled with The Big Ask. "I wasn't really sharing with people," he says, "And," adds Kathy, "he wasn't letting his wife share either." She convinced him to allow her to be his advocate in promoting his need for a kidney. "Asking someone to donate a kidney is uncomfortable and hard for a recipient to do."
She emailed family and friends and shared Chris' situation, inspiring many of them to get tested. A couple of months later, Kathy had a moment that changed everything. "I felt like I had to be tested," she recalls. "I couldn't lie next to him at night wondering if I was potentially his match."
They learned her instinct was right; she was a match. Kathy was a "go" for donation.
Though Chris had some hesitation—"She'd already done so much for me as the mother of our kids and as such a great wife,"—Kathy felt peace about it. "I felt like it was God's plan. We were brought together for a reason and this was one of them."
On June 13, 2017, Kathy's instinct proved right again. She and Chris sailed through their surgeries and over the weeks following, recovered well, with family and friends pitching in to help with the kids, meals and getting Chris to follow-up appointments.
A couple of months before the one-year anniversary of the transplant, the Blanchards learned Kathy was pregnant with their third child, a good sign her body had recovered well. After a normal pregnancy, they welcomed their new daughter in December 2018.
Kathy says their transplant team at Christ uses them as an example of how fast transplant can happen. "We both had a great experience," she says. "I believe God removed any barriers; there weren't any speed bumps to slow us down." We are changing everything for people who need a kidney and the people willing to donate one. If you want to learn more about kidney transplant and living kidney donation, find answers to frequently asked questions, or call our kidney transplant team at 513-585-2493.