When Robert Orange opened the door to his local church in Jersey City on a fall evening back in 1998, he came face-to-face with a person who would change his life forever. According to Robert, it was "love-at-first-sight" for him when he encountered Cherie on her way out of Christ the King Church, as he was on his way in. "I just knew I had to get to know this woman. Little did I know that she was going to impact my life the way she has. I am a very blessed man."
From that day on, Robert and Cherie were inseparable and the couple ultimately married in October of 2000. At the time, 51-year-old Robert was suffering from high blood pressure and heart disease. His kidneys had failed after a heart attack six years earlier, which necessitated him being placed on renal dialysis. Like many dialysis patients, Robert would spend three days a week for four hours a day at a dialysis center in Jersey City. While Robert kept up his spirits, just happy to have found his soul mate, being on dialysis for nearly 10 years was taking its toll on his physical health. His physicians at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an affiliate of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System, listed Robert on the renal transplant registry. He and Cherie realized a transplant was his only hope for living a longer, more productive life.
"One day on our way home from dialysis, Cherie announced she was detouring to Newark Beth so she could be tested as a living donor. I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. I was happy that she was willing to do this for me, but I didn't want to get too excited because it was a long shot that we would be compatible. After all, even my twin sister was not a match for me," Robert told.
Added Cherie, "For a while, even before I met Robert, I had been wondering what my purpose in life would be. After meeting and marrying him, the idea of family took on a whole new meaning. I prayed on it. I knew I had to do all I could for him. He is my husband and I take my marriage vows seriously. I wanted Robert to have a better quality of life."
Fortunately for Robert, Cherie was a match. On February 27, 2003, Robert received Cherie's kidney. Stuart Geffner, MD, led the surgical team removing Cherie's left kidney. In the adjacent operating room, Steven Guy, MD, prepared Robert to receive his wife's kidney. The donor nephrectomy on Cherie was performed laparoscopically. Four hours later, Robert and Cherie were in recovery. Cherie stayed in the hospital for two days, while Robert remained as an inpatient for one week.
"Preparing for the surgery was made easier by all the information and support we received from the transplant coordinators, physicians and social worker. We were educated and kept up-to-date every step of the way," noted Robert. "When you go through something like this, you develop special relationships with your medical team. They're like family to me."
According to Carmen Flores, RN, transplant coordinator, thorough screening of prospective living kidney donors and recipients as well as extensive counseling from social workers is customary. Donors must also understand the extent of the operation and that organs must be donated without the expectation or any form of compensation. "It is essential that the donor and recipient fully comprehend all that comes along with a living donor procedure, from the physical to emotional, before, during and after."
Cherie credits her employer, Modell Sporting Goods, with simplifying what was a challenging time for her. As a manager at the Jersey City location, Cherie was able to work her schedule around pre-operative testing and to take off the necessary time for recuperation. "The company is very family-oriented and everyone was so supportive of me and how the transplant would help Robert. If I worked for anyone else, my recovery might not have gone as well. My human resources manager, Maureen, told me to take whatever time I needed. They were very compassionate."
Eighteen months later, Robert and Cherie find themselves back at the dialysis center on a regular basis. Only now, the couple is there to speak with patients, their family members and friends about the Living Donor Program at the Renal Transplant Center at Newark Beth Israel. According to Cherie, Robert "is a super advocate for organ donation. Everywhere he goes, he tells our story ? even in the supermarket."
"It's our calling. This is our way of giving back for all our good fortune, for all the friends we have made and for all blessings we have received. Cherie and I know what has happened to us is all part of a bigger plan and we'll do whatever we can to help others," Robert said.
Date: September 2004
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