Bud Anderson is about to receive the gift of his life, and he's scared to death. Scared that his body will reject the precious gift--a kidney from his wife, Judy. Scared of the pain and pills they'll both endure. And scared that maybe, just maybe, by taking a part of Judy, he'll flourish and she won't.
But it's a gift Bud needs as his body slowly deteriorates because of his failing kidneys. And it's a gift that Judy didn't think twice about giving--despite her own fears.
"When you've been happily married for as long as we have, it's like you're one person," said Judy, who has been married to Bud for 38 years. "When I think about my life, I think about our life."
The Bluemont couple will undergo surgery Thursday. Once doctors at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville remove Judy's left kidney, it will be only minutes before they begin transplanting the organ into Bud.
The recent creation of more powerful anti-rejection medication has allowed people in search of organs to look beyond blood relatives for donors, and a growing number are turning to their spouses for that gift of life. Between 1988 and 1997, the percentage of kidney donations that occurred between spouses increased more than four-fold, from 2.3 percent to 9.8 percent, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
In addition to better drugs, any donation, whether from a relative or someone else, has a greater chance of success if it comes from a live person rather than someone who has just died, said Catherine Paykin, director of organ and tissue donation programs at the foundation.
"The reason a living donor is often preferred is because the operations are at the same times," Paykin said. "The kidney is out of the body for a shorter time, and there's more control over the operation. Otherwise, you might be flying the kidney across the country. More things can go wrong."
A live donation eliminates the long, uncertain wait for a donor organ. Bud Anderson was told he would have to wait three to five years for a kidney off the waiting list. Nationwide, more than 60,000 patients are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and 2,000 people died last year while waiting for a new kidney, according to the foundation.
After his kidneys failed in February 1998, Bud had no idea he could receive an organ from anyone other than a blood relative. His three children offered. He refused. He didn't want them to risk their health for his.
Then, as he watched the TV program "Dateline NBC" one night, he saw a segment about a man who received an organ from his wife. Judy, 57, wanted to be tested, to see whether she could give him her kidney. Once again, Bud refused.
By switching from a meat-based diet to a fruit- and vegetable-based diet, Bud, 58, had been able to stabilize his kidney function and avoid dialysis. But Judy knew the clock was ticking. It would be only a matter of time before his kidneys shut down. She wanted to take action before Bud became too weak.
Judy tried again. If she were in the same situation, Judy said to Bud, he'd do the same for her, right?
"Of course I'd do it for her, but when you're on the receiving end, it's totally different," he said. "I'm scared to death. I don't like the idea of having to put her through this. And I still have trouble accepting the fact that I need it."
Bud finally gave in, and Judy began an intensive series of tests and physicals to make sure she was healthy. They are a 50 percent match, close enough to go ahead.
After their four- to six-hour operation, it will take Judy about eight weeks to recover, less if she heals quickly. For Bud, recuperation will be a longer road. The first three months after the operation will be critical, and doctors will have to monitor his body's reaction to its new organ constantly.
The Andersons insist that they will be well enough to dance at their son's wedding in October. And Bud is sure he'll eventually be back driving his tractor on his 30-acre farm and playing with his three grandchildren. Their many friends will help them through the most difficult weeks by running errands, cooking food and stopping by the house, Judy said.
Bud knows he's partly to blame for his condition. Years of high blood pressure and gout caught up with to him, he said, and so did the years of neglecting to take medication and eating poorly. He hopes others will learn from his mistake.
"We're never as healthy as we think we are," he said. "But you can't dwell on it; all you have to do is look around and see people in worse condition. At least I have something I can do about it."
CAPTION: Despite her fears, Judy Anderson didn't think twice about giving husband, Bud, a kidney. The Bluemont couple will undergo surgery Thursday.