By Cassandra Reinhart | Special to the NB Indy
Bruce Cook feels alive again.
“I feel totally different and my whole appetite is different,” Cook said. “Things that I loved before I don’t even want to eat now.”
Cook, of Newport Beach, received a kidney transplant from Laguna Beach resident Heidi Miller in mid-November after years of deteriorating kidney function and five years of kidney dialysis.
Miller heard of Cook’s dire need for a transplant in shared social circles last spring, and reached out to him. Within a span of the next few months, she did all of the testing, discovered she was a perfect match for Cook and received hospital approvals.
The two underwent a successful 4.5-hour transplant surgery at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills on Nov. 17.
“The surgeries were great, my kidney took immediately,” Miller said. “Sometimes when they do a transplant it can take up to a week for the kidney to kick in and work, and the minute they hooked my kidney to him it worked immediately.”
Miller was hospitalized for three days; Cook a week. Because recipients are required to check in with doctors up to three times a day for up to a month post-transplant, Cook rented an apartment near Cedars-Sinai.
His first day back home in Newport Beach was Christmas Eve.
“I am not allowed to go out in public, I can’t be around pets, children, or any flowers,” Cook said. “I tried to tell everybody don’t send me any flowers, so a lot of charities got wonderful flowers from a lot of people,” he laughed.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, seven percent of transplants fail within a year and 17 percent within three years. At 10 years, 54 percent of transplant kidneys are still working. Over 20 percent of kidney transplants every year are re-transplants.
The success of transplantation depends on many factors, including the diligence of recipients in taking anti-rejection medications, exercise, and adapting a healthy diet and lifestyle, the foundation says.
“I am not allowed to go to anything but A-rated restaurants. McDonalds and Burger King are off the list,” Cook said.
Five weeks post-surgery, Miller says she feels 75 percent back to normal. Within two weeks of the surgery, she returned to her routine, attending a work-out boot camp class and ringing up sales at Tight Assets, the Laguna Beach store she owns.
“Every week I have this breakthrough where my scars are healing and then I got my energy back,” Miller said. “I came through it like a trooper.”
So inspired by Miller’s unselfish gift, Cook wants to do the giving now. The two are teaming up again to start a kidney-donor foundation, which will focus on encouraging and assisting living donors, like Miller.
Currently, there are no foundations to lend financial assistance to living donors, who mostly give their organ to close family members. Only donors whose income is below the poverty line qualify for financial assistance. Cook says their foundation will cover the ancillary expenses for qualifying donors such as loss of wages, living and travel expenses and medical bills. Cook says donors who give an organ also often have to pay higher future insurance deductibles.
“None of which gets covered,” Cook said. “It goes on their ticket. We are going to start a foundation for them to raise money to start a national charitable trust that will give grants to altruistic donors across America. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we will find a way.”
Thirteen people die each day awaiting a kidney transplant, according to Kidney Foundation statistics, and there are over 100,000 waiting for an organ.
This Christmas there was one less on the wait list as Cook celebrated at home with his wife and a new grandson, Beau, born while Cook was in recovery.
“For me it was a very small price to pay for saving somebody’s life,” Miller said. “It has been a remarkable, empowering, life-changing thing for sure.”