In sickness and in health: South Dakota man with genetic kidney disease receives life-saving transplant from his wife

James and Lindy Reeser sit in their home on Wednesday, Feb. 24, in Sioux Falls. James needed a kidney transplant, and Lindy matched as a donor. They had the procedure two weeks prior.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A South Dakota man has been given the gift of a new life.

Thanks to his college love and wife of 25 years.

James Reeser, 48, received a transplant from his wife, Lindy, on Feb. 10 after battling a genetic kidney disease called polycystic kidney disease that has impacted other members of his immediate family for generations.

His grandfather died from the disease at the age of 62, while both his mother and sister have received transplants due to complications from kidney failures.

PKD is a severe condition that causes clusters of cysts that develop in the kidneys that could possibly spread to other portions of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease can often lead to high blood pressure and kidney failure.

Every offspring runs a 50/50 chance of inheriting the disease.

“We knew my genetic possibility for it so my mom had me tested for it around 17,” Reeser said. “All you can do is try to manage it so I made smart choices, never got into alcohol or any other things that would tax my kidneys.”

At time of transplant, James Reeser’s kidneys were functioning at only 16%

No preparations, however, can fully stop the disease. It will eventually tax your kidneys to the point where the only course of action is a transplant.

The best timeline for a transplant is when a patient’s kidney function is between 16 to 20%. Once 15% kidney function is reached, starting dialysis is the next step to stay alive until a transplant is found, which could take three to five years from a cadaver donor.

Reeser was at 16% kidney function when he received the transplant from his wife.

James Reeser stands in his home on Wednesday, Feb. 24, in Sioux Falls. James needed a kidney transplant, and his wife, Lindy, matched as a donor. They had the procedure two weeks prior.

James and Lindy met in 1993 as students at the University of South Dakota and dated for 10 months. After being engaged for another 10 months, they were married in 1995 and now have two adult children.

Lindy was among a long list of loved ones who underwent testing to see if her kidney was a match to be James’ donor.

But not everyone can be a donor. A long testing process is implemented to make sure no underlying health conditions exist that might impact the donor or the recipient.

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“They do vials and vials of bloodwork, X-rays and other series of tests,” Lindy Reeser said. “If those come back and you are indeed a healthy person, then they will cross match my blood with his to see if his kidney would accept my kidney.”

Still, James and Lindy were told that even if her kidney was a biological match, there was the possibility of it being undersized for his body. Kidney sizes are loosely based off gender and the size of the donor.

“She ended up being a great biological match and when they did some further testing, they noticed she had oversized kidneys for her body size,” James said. “We were told it wouldn’t be much as a disparity as they thought, so we decided to go ahead in the process with her.”

Two weeks after surgery delayed by COVID-19, Reesers are recovering well

The transplant was originally scheduled for Dec. 2 but delayed after James tested positive for COVID-19 in late October. A few weeks later, Lindy also tested positive.

With safety precautions taken for coronavirus, they had to wait until they were clear to begin presurgery testing and reschedule the surgery date.

Now two weeks after the transplant, James and Lindy are recovering well from the surgery and looking forward to welcoming in a new chapter of their life.

“My life has literally been changed,” he said. “We can go do all these things as a couple we had always dreamed of doing. Where as before I didn’t even want to go to the mall, I was too wiped to do anything.”

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