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Originally published Sunday, May 2, 2010 at 10:01 PM

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Jerry Large

Kidney patient lives each day

Darren Patillo's life has had more ups and downs than the economy in recent years. But today he's sitting on a happy plateau and smiling because he has a functioning kidney.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Darren Patillo's life has had more ups and downs than the economy in recent years.

But today he's sitting on a happy plateau and smiling because he has a functioning kidney.

When I wrote about Patillo last May, he was on dialysis. His situation was both a warning to people whose behavior puts their lives at risk, and an example of continuous progress in the care of people who have kidney failure.

I heard about him through Northwest Kidney Centers, which has been making a big effort to get information about kidney health to people who may be at risk. (The NKC Breakfast of Hope fundraiser, May 12, focuses on transplants this year.)

Patillo is African American and from a family that enjoyed a tasty, but not necessarily healthful food.

"My mom would fry chicken at least once a week," he said.

His father had kidney disease. His sister lost a kidney. His brother is overweight and has high blood pressure, which damages kidneys.

Patillo's kidneys started breaking down in 2001 and he was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure.

A friend donated a kidney in 2002, but not quite two years later it failed and Patillo went back on dialysis, driving from his home in Snoqualmie to Seattle three times a week to connect with a machine to clean his blood.

Eventually he was able to do home dialysis. It was a big improvement but still meant being tethered to a machine at night.

Then last November, two weeks before his 41st birthday, Patillo got a call from Virginia Mason Medical Center. They said: We might have a kidney; do you want it?

He'd been on the waiting list for five years. He went into the hospital that night, lucky Friday the 13th, and had surgery the next morning.

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Before that call, Patillo had been getting weaker. Each year he lost more muscle, and had less energy, and less money.

Patillo is a real-estate agent, an occupation that requires mobility and benefits from an upbeat, outgoing personality.

Keeping that up was getting harder by the year, and you know what happened to the economy, and real estate was particularly hard hit.

They were having trouble staying afloat, but Patillo said he never fell into depression.

"When you have a 3-year-old you have to put any kind of self-pity on the back burner."

And, he said, his wife, Sara, his faith and their families and friends all kept him going.

But he also knew the odds of finding a kidney were not in his favor.

His body's sensitivity was extremely high after the first failure, which meant his system would reject most kidneys.

Patillo also has Type B blood, which further reduced the number of people who would be a match for him.

He'd gotten calls before about a possible match, only to be let down.

But this time it fit. The kidney came from a Bellingham organ donor. She lost her life, but doctors told Patillo her organs probably saved five or six other people.

A week after surgery, Patillo shoulders became paralyzed. His hands couldn't grip anything. He said probably 17 specialists saw him without figuring out what was wrong. He was hospitalized five days before a doctor discovered he was having an intense reaction to an anti-rejection drug.

"You know how people always say life is short?" he asked. Well with his disease, he said, you know for sure that it is fragile and short.

"Everyday is your time," Patillo said. You have to make the best of it.

Now that he is free to travel, they want to take their daughter, Alice, who just turned 4, to Disneyland.

They'll go to see the princesses. They've already had enough wild rides.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.


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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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