AVON, Ind. – According to the Indiana Donor Network, there are more than 114,000 people waiting for a life-saving transplant in the United States. By life-saving, they mean these patients are in need of a heart, lung, kidney, liver, pancreas or intestine.
Many stay on the waiting list for years just waiting for a match, but one Avon man refuses to play the waiting game.
Mark Kahre’s daily routine consists of waking up, eating and taking his medications. Then he gets into his car and drives around for a couple of hours. He’s not just taking a joy ride--he’s trying to find a living donor for his second kidney transplant in less than 20 years.
“Once I realized everything that was happening, and I mean…before I can live, I have to do this,” says Kahre.
Not only does he drive around every day, making sure as many people as possible see his decal, but he also sends out shirts with his information to friends around the country. He has a big support system locally and nationally.
In 1997, Kahre was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy. His kidneys had some function, but he needed a transplant to survive.
In January 2000, he got the call that changed his life. There was a match, and his new kidney was in. After the procedure, he felt brand new almost immediately.
But that feeling ended about 14 years later. The first transplant stopped working.
“I’m a lot older…it’s hit me a lot worse. I can feel it,” he says. “The first time, I still had some kidney function – now I’m at zero.”
And Kahre was back to square one.
He’s just one of nearly 1,300 people waiting for a life-saving transplant in Indiana. About 1,100 of them are waiting for a kidney, just like him. Doctors say a big difference between someone’s first transplant and their second is their time on the wait list is much longer.
Kahre has been waiting for his name to be called for five years. Now, his best chance at getting a transplant the second time around sooner rather than later may be finding a living donor--someone who chooses to give up their organ for someone else.
And he makes it his full-time job to find one.
“Once I realized this is what I’m going to do, I have to do it,” he says. “It’s not like it’s even really an option. Once I got over my funk and my negative feelings I had about it, I really just grabbed it and it was like, 'If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this.'”
And he does. But there's a lot that goes in to finding a living donor and staying healthy enough for a transplant. Kahre goes to dialysis appointments twice a week. Missing a session isn’t an option.
“Living on dialysis isn’t living,” says Mark. “There’s things I don’t do--I don’t have a social life, I don’t go out, I don’t have the energy. I literally don’t.”
Then there’s the cost of getting a transplant.
“It cost me my 401K,” he says. “I saw a statement one time…for $87,000 for just a month.”
Many have tried but failed to be a match for Kahre. He says, at first, he didn’t even want a second transplant because he wasn’t ready for the toll it would take on him and the people he loves.
“It takes--even more than the disease itself--it takes so much out of you,” he says. “It’s a really, really tiring process.”
Kahre's advice for others waiting for a transplant is to have a good support system. He also says having patience with the process helps too, especially on those days you feel unmotivated to push for another day.
But sometimes there are still feelings of remorse about the whole thing. He says even though he knows it's someone's choice to donate an organ, it's not easy being on the receiving end of it.
“Knowing that somebody has to either die or be willing to have part of their body cut out and put in you,” he says. “That’s not ‘Hey, can I borrow 20 bucks until I get paid?’ That’s pretty big.”
Through it all, he tries to stay positive.
So, he drives around with a sticker on his car, sending out shirts with his information to take his life back and to find a living donor on his own. He hopes one day, he’ll get that call.
But until then, he wants to remind everyone: don’t take life for granted. Because it could happen to you, just like it happened to him.
“I know what ‘don’t take it for granted’ means,” he says. “I shouldn’t even be here.”
Kahre is in the process of getting a new decal for his car and getting more shirts out. He is still on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. He says he’s hopeful that life-changing call will come any day now. And he says he's going to remain positive through it all.