Every member of the Oney family knows the real worth of organ donation.
Without transplant options and opportunities, the family knows it would have already lost more loved ones and would be facing a future with little to hope for. Instead, they’ve been able to cherish a few more years together.
The death of brother, son and father Kevin Oney, who battled kidney disease since he was a small child, remains a fresh wound for the family, although it serves as a reminder to appreciate the presence of his brother, Mark, who credits a kidney transplant for his very life.
“It enriched my life and made it better and allowed me to see my daughter grow up ... and I have a grandson now,” he said, recalling his brother “had no quality of life” in his final days. “I still feel very fortunate. There are probably thousands of people out there waiting for a transplant and I was fortunate enough to get in. I just thank God for his mercy.”
Recognizing April’s designation as organ donation/donate life month, Oney family members said they want to share their stories to help people understand why they should at least consider becoming an organ donor. They also hope to raise awareness about Alport Syndrome, a genetic kidney condition which is passed from mothers to sons although doctors are often unaware of the need to test for it. According to Wikipedia, “Alport syndrome or hereditary nephritis is a genetic disorder characterized by glomerulonephritis, endstage kidney disease and hearing loss. Alport syndrome can also affect the eyes (lenticonus). The presence of blood in the urine (hematuria) is almost always found in this condition.”
Mark Oney said he was 30 years old before he had any indication of the challenges kidney disease and Alport Syndrome would set upon his life.
“It was ’98 and I was driving a truck. I went to the hospital for a stye on my eye and they noticed my blood pressure was out of sight — way up there. They discovered my kidneys were starting to shut down,” he said, remembering the elevated creatine levels revealed by lab tests.
These days, Mark says, “I’m holding my own,” with regular follow-up visits to make sure a new medication is working properly. Life after a kidney transplant does require some planning, he said, explaining his medicines supress bone marrow production and make it extremely easy for him to break bones.
“I have had multiple broken bones since the transplant — wrists, sternum, ribs, fingers ... broken toes,” he said, smiling all the while before recalling he’s also sustained several compression fractures in his spine.
“I know I have limitations, but it has created a better life for me and it is what we’d call a necessary evil,” he said.
Seven members of the Oney family are actively dealing with the impact of Kidney disease. Brenda Oney, whose son’s medical history is frighteningly similar to Kevin’s, said she has become an outspoken advocate on behalf of all forms of organ donation.
“I am afraid I’m going to have to face this down the road with my own son. A lot of people are just against being donors,” she said. “I’ve changed their minds after I’ve talked to them! I ask them, ‘What are you going to do with it?”
In addition to encouraging organ donations, the Oney family is also still paying for Kevin’s funeral expenses. They explain he was denied insurance benefits, as is his surviving brother, and their mother is making payments from her own limited income to pay off his burial costs. To help, members of The Yates Family have organized a benefit concert scheduled for 5 p.m. June 1 at Fairview Elementary, with an auction and concessions. Supporters may also help by contacting Bailey Funeral Home of Flatwoods to make a donation in Kevin’s honor.
Citing the improved surgical methods for modern organ transplants, Mark Oney said anyone considering organ donation shouldn’t have any second thoughts about it because he personally knows the rewards of an extension on life.
“They can take a kidney out through your belly button now,” he said, recalling earlier transplant procedures which left the donor with massive scarring and considerable recovery time. “I would say go for it. I have no regrets whatsoever.”
TIM PRESTON can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2651.