On Saturday, Victor Schneider celebrated a very special anniversary.
It wasn’t about a wedding or a birthday, but it is a day that changed his life forever.
March 2 marked 30 years since Schneider received a new kidney. Coincidentally, March also is National Kidney Month.
To recognize his milestone, the Seymour resident, who also is a breast cancer survivor, decided to give back to an organization that helped give him a second chance at life.
Schneider is conducting an online fundraiser through Facebook for Donate Life Indiana, the organization responsible for managing the Indiana Donor Registry.
His goal is to raise at least $3,000. Anyone wanting to donate can do so on the Victor’s 30th Transplant Anniversary Fundraiser page on Facebook.
Schneider also is involved with the Indiana Donor Network, which oversees and coordinates organ donation across the state, and the National Kidney Foundation, and he has been the contact person for several license branches to promote organ donation.
“I’ve done volunteer work for them over the years,” Schneider said. “I’ve worked events, and I’ve participated in events for them. It’s my way of giving back.”
Mark Back, spokesman for the Indiana Donor Network, said 30 years is a long time for a transplant patient to live with the same donor organ.
“It is incredible to think of the changes he has witnessed in three decades all because of a donor hero who made the lifesaving decision to donate,” Back said of Schneider.
As of Monday, nine people had donated $1,135 to Schneider’s cause. The fundraiser runs through March 12.
Schneider was born with a congenital kidney defect but wasn’t aware of it until it led his kidneys to stop functioning.
“My ureters, which connect your kidneys to your bladder, normally, they have a check valve in them, so the flow is only one way,” he said. “I didn’t have those check valves, so when pressure would build in my bladder, it would back up to my kidneys and cause pressure there.”
That caused his kidneys to deteriorate over time.
In the late 1980s, when he was in his mid-20s, he complained to his doctor that he was getting more colds than usual, so the doctor ordered a full blood workup, which showed Schneider’s kidney function was way off.
The results were “terrible, horrible,” Schneider said.
Doctors told him the tests couldn’t be right because they were showing his kidneys were functioning like that of an 80-year-old man.
So they did the blood work again, but it showed the same thing, so Schneider was referred to a nephrology group at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
After more tests, they discovered the defect.
“I still felt reasonably fine,” Schneider said.
But his kidneys weren’t, forcing him to face a choice between dialysis or having a kidney transplant.
Since he was healthy other than his kidneys, doctors put him on a transplant path.
“For me, that was the choice,” he said. “I didn’t want to do dialysis and be hooked up to a machine all the time for the rest of my life.”
At that time, transplants weren’t as commonplace as they have become today, but Schneider said it was still the best choice for a “normal” lifestyle.
Over the summer of 1988, his condition got worse, so it was time to get serious about a transplant, but Schneider wasn’t able to get on the transplant list immediately.
In Jackson County, there are nine people waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, according to statistics from the Indiana Donor Network. For the state of Indiana, that number is around 1,300, and nationally, it stands at 114,500 people.
Last year, 620 people received organ transplants as a result of 165 organ donors in Indiana.
“Because of the condition I had, my old kidneys had to come out, which is unusual,” Schneider said. “The process would be that I would have to have surgery to have my old kidneys taken out. Then I would have to go on dialysis for a period of time until I received a transplant.”
At the end of September of that year, he had his kidneys removed, which is a difficult procedure because of the blood vessels that supply blood to the kidneys from the heart. Those blood vessels had to be closed off.
After the procedure, Schneider went on hemodialysis, where a dialysis machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney were used to clean his blood.
He would have to sit through the procedure for three hours three times a week. He started doing dialysis in Indianapolis near Methodist Hospital but transferred to a medical facility in Bloomington because it was less of a commute.
“Things I remember about it is that I had dialysis on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.
A few weeks after he went on dialysis, he was put on the transplant list.
He got a pager from his employer, Cummins Inc. in Columbus, so he could be notified at any time when an organ became available.
“I was anxious to get a transplant and wanted them to be able to get ahold of me,” he said.
On March 1, Schneider was at work and he got the call around 3 p.m. that they had a kidney for him. After he got off work, his parents took him up to Methodist that night.
The only thing going through his head was, “Yeah, let’s do this,” he said.
Early morning on March 3, Schneider received his new kidney. He was 30 years old.
His siblings had not been a match to donate one of their kidneys to Schneider, so his kidney came from an unknown donor.
“The kidney I received was from a deceased donor. It came out of Florida. I don’t know age, sex or anything, but it was a perfect match for me,” he said.
Years after his transplant, Schneider was able to get a copy of the transcript of what was said in the operating room during his surgery.
“They talked about what (the kidney) did, that it eventually turned pink and started producing urine,” he said. “And at the very end, (they said) the patient tolerated the procedure well.”
After less than two weeks at the hospital, he was released to go home but had to monitor his liquid intake and output. He also must take antirejection medications for the rest of his life.
The only restrictions were ones Schneider said he thought he could live without.
“They said I shouldn’t ride a motorcycle and no water skiing,” he said with a laugh. “I watched my diet for a while, but they didn’t really tell me to avoid anything.”
At the 10-year anniversary of his transplant, he sent a thank-you letter to the family through the Indiana Donor Network.
“I’ve never heard anything back,” he said. “But I did explain a little bit about my life.”
Schneider said he now follows a philosophy he hopes others will subscribe to.
“Any time you’re feeling sorry for yourself, the way to get over it is to help someone else,” he said. “To take the focus off yourself, you need to think about others.”
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To become an organ donor:
Let family know of your decision to be an organ donor because they are the final say when the time comes.
Declare you want to be an organ donor when getting and renewing your driver’s license.
You can also register your donation decision online at indianadonornetwork.org.
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Patients awaiting transplant (as of September 2018)
Information courtesy of the Indiana Donor Network
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Anyone wanting to donate to help support Donate Life Indiana can do so on Victor’s 30th Transplant Anniversary Fundraiser page on Facebook.
His goal is to raise at least $3,000. He already has brought in $1,135.
The fundraiser runs through March 12.