This will be a memorable Valentine’s Day for Mike and Lorie Bracken of Ebensburg, who are awaiting word about a life-changing surgery that involves them both.
Mike, 47, has known for 12 years that his kidneys have been failing and now faces the need for a transplant. Ironically, the life-giving gift will come from his wife of 18 years as they prepare to learn the date of their surgeries.
“We are supposed to find out (today) when we have to go to the hospital for the transplant,” Lorie said. “I learned that my kidney was a match and we were cleared for surgery last Friday.”
Mike was diagnosed with genetic polycystic kidney disease after being tested more than a decade ago.
The disease is a kidney disorder passed down through families in which multiple cysts form on the kidneys, causing them to become enlarged.
If one parent carries the gene, the children have a 50 percent chance of developing the disorder.
In Mike’s case, he and two of his sisters have been diagnosed with the disease. Their father, the late Ronald Bracken, had the disease.
“We were told that a sibling would be the most likely match for a transplant, but given his family’s history, that wasn’t an option,” Lorie said. “I knew in my heart that I would be a match, and there is no reason to wait.”
Mike has been undergoing dialysis five days a week, three hours each day, for the last three weeks to cleanse his body.
The Brackens will undergo their surgeries at PinnacleHealth Hospitals in Harrisburg in what Lorie thinks will be in two to three weeks.
Lorie said she was told that she would be hospitalized for two or three days following arthroscopic surgery to remove one of her kidneys.
“Mike will be in longer because they have to monitor his new kidney to make sure it is not being rejected,” she said.
“Neither of his diseased kidneys will be removed because they will place my donated kidney in his abdomen area.”
The good news is that the new kidney is in no danger of being infected by the disease.
Mike is employed at C&C Smith Lumber Co. in New Germany, where he continues to work.
Asked about his concerns for the surgery, Mike’s only thoughts were for his wife’s well being.
“It is unbelievable that she is a match,” he said. “I never imagined that she would be a match because the odds of that occurring were astronomical.”
With a diagnosis of end-stage kidney disease, the bulk of the transplantation will be covered by medical insurance.
But family and friends are mustering support to help the Brackens with expenses.
Joy Shutty of Northern Cambria and Diane Sauger of Ebensburg are spearheading a Zumba-thon from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Dauntless Fire Hall in Ebensburg to raise money for travel expenses and to help supplement the couple’s lost income during recovery.
Cost of the event is $15, which includes a commemorative T-shirt while supplies last. Admission is $10 if a shirt is not available. The event also features a basket raffle.
Doors open at 5 p.m., giving participants an opportunity to purchase chances for the basket raffle. Cost is $5 for a sheet of 26 tickets.
Shutty, a Zumba instructor who also works with Lorie as a hairdresser at Shear Perfection Hairstyling in the Ebensburg Mini Mall, said community support has been overwhelming.
“Mike and Lorie are the kind of people who would do anything for anyone to help them out,” Shutty said. “Judging from the generosity shown by the community, it just goes to show that their kindnesses are being rewarded.”
Shutty said the couple is well respected in the community and Mike has been a longtime baseball coach for Ebensburg youngsters.
Mike said he never dreamed that the community would come forward to such an extent to lend a helping hand to his family.
“It goes to show you how good and generous people can be,” he said. “It’s heartwarming to say the least.”
As of Wednesday, more than 120 people have signed up for the Zumba workout.
Shutty and other instructors from Brickhouse Cardio Club in Ebensburg will lead the Zumba session.
“People should dress in exercise clothes and we will provide water, which was donated, as well as some healthy snacks.” Shutty said. “It has been remarkable how quickly people stepped forward to contribute money or donate items for the gift baskets.”
The Brackens are the parents of three children, one of whom is in college and two others in high school.
“None of the children have been tested for the disease, as yet,” Lorie said. “But we will monitor them.”
In the meantime, Lorie is praying that a kidney donor can be found for Mike’s sister, Mary Jane Ostrowski of Ebensburg, who has been on the transplant waiting list for four years.
Lorie hopes that by donating a kidney to her husband, he may find the freedom and energy to pursue the things he loves.
“He loves the outdoors, going to camp and hunting deer,” she said. “This is the best Valentine’s Day gift I could ever give him.”
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