GOODING — Gooding resident Cathryn Hernandez isn’t hesitating to give up a kidney.
She wants to save her father’s life.
Louis Cook, who lives in Jerome, started dialysis about four years ago and found out he needed a transplant.
“When that happened and we knew he needed a transplant, I said I would do it,” Hernandez said. “There was no question.”
Hernandez, who goes by Amber, will donate a kidney to her father during a surgery April 6 at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“My daughter giving me a kidney is a blessing,” Cook said. “I hate taking a kidney from my daughter, but they want me around, so….”
Without the donation, Cook said, he’d probably have to wait at least a year to receive a kidney from a deceased donor.
That would likely be problematic.
“My health is just going down, down,” he said. “I live on my couch.”
Cook said each of his six children — and his four brothers — offered him a kidney.
But some had medical conditions like diabetes that prohibited them from donating or they didn’t meet the blood type requirements to be a match.
Hernandez has undergone testing to make sure she’s healthy enough to donate a kidney.
“It has just been a roller coaster,” she said. “But it’s totally worth it.
The process of seeking a kidney transplant is “a nightmare,” Cook said.
“We’ve been going through this for two years now and finally got everything taken care of and approved,” he said.
After the surgery, Hernandez will likely be in the hospital for three or four days. And her recovery will continue for at least eight weeks at home.
“She’s stepping up and doing a lot,” Cook said.
Hernandez has three sons — ages 7, 5 and 3 — and also provides daycare for a few other children. Her husband will take time off work to help out and other relatives will lend a hand, too.
Cook’s recovery after the surgery will be even longer.
Hernandez and her father both have GoFundMe pages online to raise money.
Their surgery and hospital stays will be covered by insurance. But they both anticipate additional expenses such as hotel stays, gas to drive to follow-up appointments in Utah and medications.
Hernandez has received $2,120 toward a $5,000 goal, as of March 17. About $2,000 of that came through a grant from the National Living Donor Assistance Center.
Cook has received $90 toward a $10,000 fundraising goal.
Coping with health struggles
Hernandez said her father’s kidney problems started with diabetes. And after a gastric bypass surgery about five years ago, “it was just one problem after another.”
Cook was in the hospital for three-and-a-half months. Once he got home, the problems continued.
Cook said he received a call from his doctor and had to go to the emergency room because his potassium level was too high.
Since then, he has been on dialysis for four years. He goes a few times a week — often, for more than four hours each time.
And for a while, he was hospitalized about once a week due to complications from dialysis at a previous facility where he was receiving treatment.
Dialysis is terrible, Hernandez said. It requires sitting for a long time hooked up to “horrible, scary machines.”
“It’s really changed my dad,” she said. “He can’t really do anything.”
Cook used to work O’Reilly Auto Parts. He cut back on hours, and eventually he couldn’t work at all.
“It got to where I couldn’t even do the one day a week,” he said.
Spending time undergoing dialysis is hard, Cook said, and he hates it.
“You get to be friends with people,” he said. One fellow patient made him a cushion to make his time at the dialysis more comfortable and brought in treats.
But one day, Cook noticed she wasn’t there. “You come in and all of a sudden their chair is empty,” he said.
Cook has to cope with loss like that of his dialysis friend frequently.
“You lose four or five friends a month,” he said. “It’s hard, you know.”
Cook said he’s a lot healthier than most people at his dialysis center. He has followed a restricted diet, which has helped him be in good enough shape to handle a kidney transplant.
Donating an organ
St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center isn’t an organ harvesting facility, spokeswoman Michelle Bartlome said. But it provides care for patients before and after receiving a kidney transplant.
Hernandez has undergone extensive medical testing to determine if she’d be a good fit as a donor and to prepare for the surgery.
She estimates she has had 100 vials of blood drawn and has undergone a CT scan.
It won’t be the first time Hernandez will have surgery. She said she had three C-sections, and recovered well and quickly.
“In my head, I think it’s the same thing,” she said. But, a surgeon warned her, it’s totally different to take out an organ that’s not supposed to come out.
Living donors are often family members or friends, according to the National Kidney Foundation, but anonymous donations are becoming more common.
Donors must be 18 or older, in good health and have normal kidney function.
You generally can’t donate if you have certain conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hepatitis or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
If the donors are evaluated thoroughly before the surgery, they can go on to live a normal, healthy life, according to the foundation.
Thousands of people across the country — including young children — are on waiting lists to receive a kidney donation, Hernandez said. “It is so sad.”
Despite the challenges, donating a kidney, she said, is worth it to save someone’s life.