NE Ind. wife donates kidney to triathlete husband

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — At first glance Tony Klepinger, 40, wife Julie and their two young daughters seem very much like the typical young family.

They live in Whitley County; he works for a medical manufacturing company and she teaches students with special needs at Pierceton Elementary. When they aren't working they are rearing their daughters Reagan, 4, and Reese, 2, and in their spare time they train for triathlons.

The News-Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/1hytoIu ) the couple looks the picture of health. But last August, Julie Klepinger gave her husband the gift of life: one of her kidneys. Now a year later you would never know. It was only five months after the surgery that Tony Klepinger tackled his first post-surgery triathlon.

April is Donate Life Month. According to the National Kidney Foundation one in nine Americans has kidney disease; with is more than 26 million in the United States. Lutheran Hospital has the only the only kidney and heart transplant programs in northern Indiana. Lutheran began performing kidney transplants in June 2007.

Nephritis runs in the Klepinger family. Tony's mother, Linda Klepinger, had a kidney transplant at Lutheran Hospital in 2009. She was on dialysis for two years before she received a kidney from an unknown donor who had died. When Linda Klepinger first discovered she had renal failure her doctors suggested other members of the family get tested to see if they too might be prone to the disease. It was in 2000 that Tony Klepinger discovered he was in renal failure, but I wasn't until this last year that he became sick enough to need a new kidney. Looking for living donors, Klepinger discovered both his wife and his sister were a good match, but because his sister could also develop the disease, Julie donated one of hers.

"The anti-rejection drugs are really so much better these days; we no longer have to (make) an exact match," said Dr. John Ducker, transplant medical director at Lutheran Hospital for the kidney transplant program. Ducker said kidney transplant patients generally do better when they receive a kidney from a live donor.

Tony Klepinger takes three different drugs morning and evening. Now nine months post-surgery he comes to the Transplant Center to have his blood and vital signs checked monthly. Eventually he will be able to back off the frequency of doctor visits, he said, but he will still need to have his blood levels checked monthly.

Julie Klepinger said she felt worse after the surgery than her husband. She has a very petite frame and, despite the fact that the surgery was minimally invasive laparoscopic, they had to move a lot of things around to find her kidney. She compared the surgery to labor, and said she would rather go through labor again than get a kidney out.

"I didn't have a baby to hold, but I have my husband," said Julie Klepinger with a laugh.

Tony Klepinger said he immediately felt a difference in how he was feeling. The new kidney did a much better job of filtering his blood, and all the aches he had in his joints from the buildup of uric acid went away.

He said if he had any advice for someone about to undergo a kidney transplant it would be to reassure him or her.

"You will feel a lot better on the other side," Klepinger said.

Nobody will feel 100 percent right after surgery, he said, and it really took him about three to four months before he was feeling fully recovered.

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Information from: The News-Sentinel, http://www.news-sentinel.com/ns

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