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April 11, 2013

Couple recovering after life-saving transplant

EBENSBURG — Mike and Lorie Bracken of Ebensburg have a special reason to celebrate during April’s National Donate Life Month.

After being home for just over a month, the Brackens are recovering from a pair of successful kidney surgeries March 8 that are having a profound impact on their lives.

Mike, 47, had known for 12 years that his kidneys were failing and that he would need a transplant.

That life-giving gift came from Lorie after learning in February that she was a match.

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.

While a sibling would be the most likely match for a transplant, that wasn’t an option given his family’s history.

The Brackens underwent their operations at PinnacleHealth Hospitals in Harrisburg.

Lorie was hospitalized for three days while Mike stayed for five days.

“We just had our one-month checkups and the doctors said they couldn’t be more pleased with how our surgeries went,” Lorie said. “Mike has been traveling to Harrisburg more often to monitor his anti-rejection drugs to ensure that his kidneys are working.”

Lorie returns to work as a hairdresser at Shear Perfection Hairstyling in the Ebensburg Mini Mall on Monday. She is limited to a four-hour work day, which will be a challenge until she builds up her endurance.

“I’m getting stronger each day, but I tire quickly,” she said. “Doctors have told Mike to walk at least 30 minutes a day to make sure he has a better quality of life.”

The kidney he got from Lorie is functioning superbly.

There are no ill effects other than the normal repercussions associated with a kidney transplant.

Lori is restricted from lifting anything heavier than 20 pounds and has been advised against using ibuprofen, which may be harmful to her remaining kidney.

With Mike’s immune system suppressed, he has been advised not to frequent public places, shake hands or hug people for fear of infection.

“He is guarding against even getting a common cold because it’s difficult for him to fight any infection at this point,” Lorie said.

The couple is grateful for all the community support they have received.

Prior to their surgeries, Lorie’s friends organized a Zumba-thon that attracted more than 200 participants.

The effort raised $12,000 to help the Brackens defray some of their expenses, including out-of-pocket prescriptions that amount to about $260 a week.

“We placed the money in a savings account and use it for everyday expenses, medicines, as well as travel expense back and forth to Harrisburg,” Lorie said.

“I’m so grateful for the generosity shown to our family during this ordeal. I have been a person who has tried to help others, but after going through this, I will be inclined to do even more.”

Mike said he appreciates the money and gas card donations, but it is the get well cards from strangers that humble him.

“I’ve heard from other transplant recipients,” he said. “I don’t know if there is anything I can say that could express how I feel about all the people who have supported us.”

He is eager to get back to work at C&C Smith Lumber Co. in New Germany, where he works as a shift supervisor in the pallet mill.

“Work has been great and they told me to take as much time as I need,” Mike said.

He would like to return in about another month, but his doctors may have something to say about that.

“I feel better now than I have in years,” Mike said. “I’m also eager to get back to helping with Ebensburg’s American Legion baseball team, where I coach 16- to 18-year olds.”

Mike is encouraged with how his body is accepting the kidney.

“My doctors told me to keep doing what I’m doing; hydrate, don’t exert myself and monitor my blood pressure,” he said.

“That was one of the red flags with my condition because when I was in my 30s, I developed a sky-high blood pressure.

Mike had been undergoing dialysis five days a week, three hours each day, to cleanse his body.

When asked if he is now free of dialysis for the rest of his life, he simply said: “That’s the plan.”

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