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Son returns the gift of life to his father

Sunday, June 16, 2002

CHARLESTON -- Almost six years ago, Adrien Anderson gave his father the same gift he was given several years ago -- life. Adrien's father, Andrew Anderson, was suffering from kidney failure related to diabetes and was desperately waiting for a kidney when Adrien, and Andrew's six other children, tested to see if they were eligible to donate a kidney to their father. Adrien was the only one who turned out to be a perfect match.

"It felt wonderful to know that my son would give me one of his kidneys," Andrew said. "It made me proud to know that he would give me another chance at life."

On Nov. 5, 1996, Adrien and Andrew laid side by side in the operating room at Barnes-Jewish Hospital as one of Adrien's kidney's was placed into his father's body. The surgery lasted for seven hours.

After father and son completed a "two-or-three-day" hospital stay, Andrew returned home to Charleston, where he began his recuperation. Andrew's wife, Ernestine, was there to help her husband, and she eventually gained knowledge about kidney conditions, which proved helpful to her a couple of years later.

About three-and-a-half years ago, Ernestine learned she was suffering from kidney failure due to high blood pressure. At first, Ernestine wasn't as lucky as her husband. None of her six children or brothers and sisters were donor matches. So Ernestine was placed on a kidney recipient waiting list and was given a beeper. If the beeper went off, it meant Ernestine had a kidney waiting for her.

One day, while visiting her daughter who was being treated for a brain tumor in St. Louis, Ernestine's beeper went off. Ernestine wanted the kidney, but she didn't want to leave her daughter's side and turned down the donation.

A couple of weeks later, Ernestine's beeper went off again. This time, she didn't pass up the chance. On March 4, 2000, Ernestine received a kidney from an anonymous cadaver. To this day, she still doesn't know the name of her donor, but, she said, she would like to.

Ernestine did keep in touch with the lady who received the donor's other kidney, but the two haven't corresponded in a while, Ernestine admitted.

Even when things got tough, Ernestine wouldn't let herself get down. "I never doubted myself," she said. "I never did give up. I always had hope and kept that faith -- faith that someday I would get a kidney."

Not all organ transplants turn out as well as the Andersons did. They're two very lucky people, and they know it. "Oh, we're blessed," Ernestine said. "There's no doubt about it. God gave us another chance."

Although they're not complaining, Andrew, 60, and Ernestine, 59, said there are a few minor drawbacks to having a kidney transplant. Weight gain, limited weight lifting, taking medications and proper dieting, which consists of drinking a lot of water, are among some of the effects of kidney transplants. The weight eventually came off, and now it's just a way of life, Ernestine said. It's a lifestyle, she said, and it's one any organ recipient must conform to.

"I remember this young girl, who was in her 20's, who was receiving dialysis and needed a kidney," Ernestine recalled. "She died before she got one, but she wasn't taking care of herself. She tried to live a normal life and you can't do that with kidney problems.

Ernestine continued, "When you have this condition, you have to be the No. 1 person you're taking care of. You can't do whatever you want. She was young and wanted to have fun, and that's it."

Today, knowing that he has his son's kidney, Andrew said it makes him feel closer to his son, who lives in St. Louis. Every three months, the Andersons visit their doctor and the transplant team at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. They also visit the Missouri Delta Medical Center regularly for blood work.

Since both have had kidney transplants, Ernestine and Andrew don't know if they're eligible to be donors, but, they said, if they can, they will.

"It saved my life," Ernestine said. "It gave me another chance at life. If I could do that for somebody else, I would."

To learn more about organ donations, keep reading the Standard Democrat. Monday's article will discuss the steps taken to help save the lives of others like the Andersons.