Bob Loudermilk, a former pilot from Virginia Beach, Va., who transported cadaver kidneys to facilitate kidney transplants in others, received the gift of life as part of UMMC’s four-way kidney exchange on Nov. 2 and 3. Loudermilk, who has been on dialysis for the last few years, received his kidney from Stacey Lichtman, whose husband received a kidney from another donor as part of this exchange. Bob also plays a key role in continuing this chain of transplants, as his son-in-law will be what’s known as a “bridge” donor who will give his kidney to a yet-undetermined recipient at a later date. Here is Bob’s story:
(What health problem caused you to need a transplant?)
I was diagnosed with diabetes in the 1960’s in between Vietnam tours as an Army pilot. I knew that I had a propensity for kidney problems. After I retired from the Army, I became a charter pilot. Part of my job was to fly cadaver kidneys to hospitals. It’s just ironic that, later on, I would need a kidney transplant too.
I was diagnosed with kidney failure three years ago at a local hospital, and have been on dialysis for the last two and a half years. The dialysis provided a needed service for me. It kept me going long enough to have a miracle like this come along. But it took all of my energy and tired me out. My daughter, brother, wife’s niece and son-in-law all offered to donate a kidney to me, but they were all ruled out for various reasons. Then, I was turned down for a transplant at a local hospital because of various medical issues.
(How did you choose the University of Maryland?)
After I was turned down locally for a transplant, my doctor there told me not to give up; he suggested that I go to the University of Maryland because “they do great things there.” I knew the reputation of the Medical Center, so I knew the people were first-class.
We went on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Web site and found Dr. Benjamin Philosophe. I e-mailed him a question through the Ask the Expert feature and explained my situation. He responded very quickly and said he’d be interested in talking to me. He gave me his number and I made an appointment.
We came to UMMC in December 2008. At first, I was turned down because of various medical issues, but then Dr. Stephen Bartlett asked me to come back and talk to him. As a two-tour Vietnam veteran, Dr. Bartlett said he knew I was a risk taker, so he agreed to perform my surgery.
(How did you become involved in the kidney swap?)
UMMC transplant coordinator Debbie Iacovino entered us into the Paired Kidney Exchange (PKE) Program in February 2009. My son-in-law, Eugene Varela, was not a match for me, but he volunteered to donate his kidney in my name. By doing that, he volunteered to give me a better and longer life. He is a bridge donor, which means he will donate a kidney to someone else at a later date.
(How will receiving this kidney impact your life?)
For a 74-year-old guy to say he has a future is saying a lot, and I have confidence that I’ll be able to come back and do things I might not have done before.
I’d like to play golf and walk the grounds at some golf tournaments. My wife and I want to travel. Before dialysis, we traveled through Europe and we would like to start traveling there again. Once I fully recover from the surgery, it will improve my life considerably.
(Do you feel grateful for being able to be a part of this exchange?)
Yes. It was a fortunate incident. I’m grateful to Debbie for arranging this, to my son-in-law for offering to donate his kidney, and to all of the doctors and nurses at the University of Maryland. This is a miracle that has changed my life.
(How do you feel about the transplant doctors and the rest of the team?)
I can’t think of any doctors who are more professional, more devoted to what they are doing than the doctors I’ve seen here in the transplant department. The doctors and nurses have been fantastic. They’ve done many things for me and others. Dr. Bartlett gave me a new life.
They’re all one big team. Debbie is great at getting all the people coordinated. She’s a dynamic person and she’s perfect for the job.
Dr. Bartlett gave us a new life. Bob’s quality of life will be much improved. There’s no comparison. Debbie Iacovino is a miracle worker. She is phenomenal in the way that she works with patients and doctors.
Everyone has been fantastic. They are all there to help. You know you have the best when you come to the University of Maryland.