Story by Curt Green
This is the first in a series of blogs about people with the Helen Keller, Jesse Owens spirit. Let me explain. Some people inspire us to soar to great heights because they did. Some people see adversity as a speed bump and confidently roll over it. Some people are “unsinkable” and bounce back no matter what. This is the first in a series of blogs about ordinary people who do just that.
I was inspired to write these blogs by two of my personal heroes, Helen Keller and Jesse Owens. If you are not familiar with these names here are some very brief bios.
Helen would not be bound by conditions. She became deaf and blind before she turned two as the result of scarlet fever. She learned to read (in several languages) and even speak, eventually graduating with honors from Radcliffe College in 1904. It is remarkable that she accomplished any of this in an age when few women attended college and the disabled were often hidden and spoken of only in hushed tones.
Keller’s many other achievements are impressive by any standard:
she authored 13 books, wrote countless articles, and devoted her life to social reform. She lectured on behalf of disabled people everywhere. She also helped start several foundations that continue to improve the lives of the deaf and blind around the world. She is remembered for a great many pieces of wisdom but this is my personal favorite:
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.” – Helen Keller
Jesse was an athlete, a black athlete and a very special one. His performance on a spring afternoon in 1936 was beyond unbelievable. In 45 minutes, he established three world records and tied another, but what made the accomplishment special, extra special is that he did it in Nazi Germany before a regime of white supremacists.
Jesse Owen’s story transcended athletics. Berlin, on the verge of World War II, was bristling with Nazism, red-and-black swastikas were flying everywhere while Adolf Hitler was busy haranguing about the “unbeatable master race” of blond, blue eyed Aryans.
When Owens finished competing, the African-American son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves had single-handedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy. On the sacred soil of the Nazi Fatherland he humiliated the so-called master race by winning four, count ‘em, four gold medals. Hitler, left the stadium.
I never met Helen Keller but I had the distinct pleasure and honor of meeting and interviewing Jesse Owens when I was a young radio announcer in 1961. I got his autograph for my brother who treasures it to this day. Owens lived by a very simple motto, “One chance is all you need!”
Our Keller/Owens courage series will focus on people, just ordinary people who have managed to survive and win under amazingly adverse circumstances
Our first story is about Curt Green. I met Curt as the result of a long and thoughtful comment he made about one of my Bob’s Newheart blogs. His words were insightful, compelling and inspirational. Those same terms describe his story, one that truly is in the Keller/Owens spirit .
Whenever I find myself overwhelmed, depressed or in need of a motivational kick in the pants, I think about Curt’s incredible journey, his undying faith and his commitment to “Paying it forward.”
Curt Green is a very special man and I am honored to call him a friend. Thank you Curt for taking the time to write your story. It will serve to inspire others for a very long time.
In September of 2005 at age 44 I was working for Schwans as a route manager (The Schwan Food Company is a multi-billion dollar privately owned company with 15,000 employees. They sell frozen foods from home delivery trucks, in grocery store freezers, by mail, and to the food service industry). My work days where long and it was usually after 11 P.M. when I got home feeling both tired and hungry. On this particular evening I didn’t feel like cooking so before I went to bed I had a plain old peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While that may sound pretty bland and harmless it turned out to be anything, but. To say it didn’t’ sit well would be putting it mildly. It wasn’t long after I ate it that something in that sandwich triggered a gall bladder attack. Despite experiencing significant discomfort I managed to find my way to the Emergency Room in a Fairmont, Minnesota hospital.
On arrival they took X-rays and decided I needed care they could not provide so they wheeled me into an ambulance and sent me to the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The highway the ambulance used to get me to Rochester was not in good condition so the 120 mile ride which took about two hours was rough and uncomfortable. Finally, though, at 5 AM the next morning I was admitted to Mayo’s St. Mary’s hospital.
The Mayo doctors wasted no time and after some tests to determine the severity of my condition and to locate the gall stones, they did an ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography). ERCP is an x-ray exam of the bile ducts that is aided by a video endoscope which allows the physician to view the inside of the stomach and duodenum, and inject dyes that can be seen on x-rays. The lighted probe that goes down your throat has a tiny claw at the end that allows them to open the passageway and let any gall stones pass.
It all seemed to go well but there was a complication. The surgeons didn’t know until later that my intestine was punctured during the procedure and that’s where my long journey began — instead of a normal recovery from a routine surgery my condition worsened. I spiked a fever and kept getting sicker, so sick that my kidneys shut down. That’s when they had to take drastic measures to save my life. What started as a simple gall stone attack had now turned into a life threatening situation. I can only thank God I was at Mayo where they are well equipped to handle such an emergency. It was going to be 207 days before I was released from the hospital. That simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich changed my life and almost ended it.
In order to keep me comfortable yet treat me effectively and remove the infection physicians put me in a drug induced coma which lasted 21 days into October. While comatose they opened my abdominal cavity and washed out handfuls of dead, blackened fat. This procedure helps to ensure the removal of the infections, something they had to do seven times over the course of the month. Naturally I remember none of it. As part of my recovery the Mayo Doctors then placed me in a special bed that would rock me gently back and forth so that no fluids would settle in my body, but even with that extraordinary step my hands and head swelled to almost twice their normal size.
When I finally awakened I had over 12 tubes coming out of my stomach which were not only for drainage but also for feeding and other healing purposes. In the middle of my stomach there was a very large 9 inch diameter hernia. For three months I was unable to drink anything and could not eat for six months.
Studies indicate that being immobilized for long periods has a very negative effect. It is estimated that we can lose 10 to 20 percent of our muscle strength per week in bed so upon awakening from the coma I found that the combination of immobilization and the surgery left me so weak walking was almost impossible. Because of all the drainage and feeding tubes, I was forced to lie on my back for the first 2 months. Three times a week, they would wheel me down to the dialysis unit to undergo the cleansing process. It was their hope that my kidneys would be able to bounce back from the trauma, but as time went on and despite the best efforts of the Mayo team, the possibility of this happening decreased. We still had a long, long way to go before I would walk out of the hospital and return to anything that even remotely resembled a normal life.
Probably the scariest time for me was in early March of 06, I had a blood clot pass through my lungs and I could not catch my breath. Not being able to breathe is very frightening, I was gasping for air while the medical team worked feverishly to get it under control. It took a couple of hours, but finally they were able to transfer me to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). At the same time I had a skin graft done for my hernia that developed during the two weeks following the initial surgery.
I was in the hospital for 207 days or 7 months when I was finally discharged on April 23, 2006. Weak, and unable to care for myself I went to Yale, South Dakota to live with my parents and try to recover. They estimate that for every day you are in the hospital, it takes 3 days to recover.
.I had a long road ahead, my kidneys were still not functioning properly and never would. I started dialysis in Huron, S.D and made 3 trips a week to the dialysis unit there on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Dialysis is a procedure of cleaning the blood and taking out excess fluids since the kidney cannot produce urine. Once connected to the machine it takes about four and a half hours for the cleansing process to be completed. The procedure leaves you drained of energy so for all practical purposes it results in a lost day.
If you are on dialysis your liquid intake is very limited and almost impossible to follow. It is recommended that you consume less than 50 ounces between treatments. I had great difficulty with that limitation so they would have to remove 10 to 12 pounds of fluid with each treatment and that’s a problem because too much liquid represents a danger to the heart.
I was also limited in what I could eat since the kidney works at balancing potassium and phosphorous in the body. Too much potassium could cause a heart attack, therefore, it was recommended that I not eat potatoes, tomato products, or any dairy products.
From May of 2006 to October of 2007, I went to Avera McKennan hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota ten times because the vein in my arm kept narrowing and the blood could not return to it causing extreme swelling. With the exception of being admitted to the hospital just once all of the trips involved outpatient surgery to correct the swelling. Finally they put in a stent which solved the problem.
In March of 2007 I saw Dr. Fred Harris in Sioux Falls who did a masterful job of fixing the hernia in my stomach. Although the surgery was a success, infection kept me in the hospital for two weeks. I also had a new dialysis catheter put in, a fistula (the Medline Encyclopedia defines fistula as an abnormal connection between an organ, vessel, or intestine and another structure). In my case the fistula was combining a vein and an artery in my arm to allow the dialysis needle to enter and function properly. Without the fistula the vein would collapse.
During this time it was a matter of recovery and being evaluated for a kidney transplant so I could be placed on the national transplant list. I had decided to have the transplant done in Sioux Falls where I lived only because it was close. While I was excited about getting on the list I was not optimistic about getting an organ. The fact is, I really had little hope of getting a kidney because my blood type, which is O, is quite common and that means kidneys of that type are in greatest demand. The doctors told me that it would be at least a 5 year wait. When I asked what the average life span of someone on dialysis, they said 5 years. So, I just resigned myself to thinking that dialysis would be a part of my life until I die.
Then in 2008 a miracle happened. A friend of the family came forward in January and offered to donate a kidney. This is so much better than a kidney from a deceased patient because they last much longer.
My donor Joey Bich (pronounced Bish) wanted to have it done at Mayo In Rochester so that’s where I went for my evaluation in June. Finally I knew beyond a doubt that the transplant would be a reality, it was really going to happen. Dialysis was going to end and I had a shot at a normal life again. And…I was very happy with the decision to go to Mayo because of their experience. They average a transplant every day. Joey and I were approved and the transplant date of July 25, 2008 was set.
Remnants of that black cloud that followed me around for moths after the PB and J sandwich still appeared, though. It seems as though when it comes to things medical issues, complications are a fact of life for me. While the transplant was successful, it was not without a hitch. What is normally a two-hour surgical procedure that some surgeons are now calling “Routine surgery” was for me an 11 hour ordeal because there was so much scar tissue on the right side of my abdomen. As a result they had to put the kidney on the left side. My doctor told me in confidence later that he was about ready to give up, obviously he didn’t, but it still wasn’t’ over. A day later they had to open me up again because there was a leak in one of my bowels. They fixed it but my recovery was delayed by about a month. I left the hospital on August 11 and had to stay in a motel till September 10 for checkups. Then I was free to go home.
Good news…It looks like the bad news stopped. Since being discharged for the final time my future has been wide open and bright. Now I can drink as much as I want and eat what I like without fear or worry. I can travel for longer than a day and am free now to live like a normal human again, just as I did before that fateful PB and J sandwich. I have a life again and all because someone was brave, kind and generous enough to give up one of his kidneys. Thank you Joey…thank you.
Curt was featured in a news report that you can watch on YouTube. It is called “Three year detour” and there is the link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAVFh2vcG2Y
If you would like Curt to speak to your group, you can contact him here. email@example.com
About Curt Green.
He describes his life this way:
“Right now, I live in Sioux City, Iowa and work a couple of part-time jobs. My hobby is being a baseball fan but my main focus is doing anything I can to promote organ donation. I speak at high schools maybe 5 to 10 times a year, visit my local dialysis unit to bring hope to those still hooked to a machine, and am involved with a new non-profit group called Doug’s Donors who mission is to assist those on dialysis in getting on a transplant list.
I have 3 daughters and 2 sons with a daughter in North Carolina, my oldest son in Minnesota, my next son and youngest daughter in Sioux City with me and my other daughter studying to be a Vet Tech in Rochester, MN
Curt Green is a very honest and straightforward man. When I asked him about his faith and how prayer helped him in his recovery he said, “One thing I learned is that when I was sick and hurting, I could not focus enough to pray. That is when I learned the importance of people praying for me. I really so believe this is the cause of my recovery. Now when in church, I take it very seriously when prayers for others are requested.”
My faith plays a big part in my life as it guides and directs me on how I live. Not perfectly but progressively. There is a verse in the Bible that I feel describes my life today. It is Joel 2:25. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” These were God’s words to the Jews through the prophet Joel. God had punished them for their disobedience and yet, in the midst of it, he offers his grace. God has been showing me his grace all along but now I can see it. He has restored unto me the years the locusts have eaten and continues to do so.
One verse that I have on my white board is Romans 12:12 “ Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Also, my sister put this saying on the board, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it’s not the end.” That really spoke to me and I still tear up when I read it.”
Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 4,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.