By Ben Tinsley
ARLINGTON — Roughly a year ago, Adam Brunell, 26, donated his right kidney to extend the life of his father, Larry Brunell, 62.
The surgery, which took place Aug. 19, 2014 at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth, has allowed Larry Brunell to continue living a normal life.
“This is the healthiest I have seen my dad in recent memory,” Adam Brunell said Monday. “He has more energy, is able to eat foods that he was unable to eat for years and is back to the old Dad that I remember.”
In celebration of the one-year anniversary of the successful surgery, both father and son have decided to take their fitness to the next level and ride in the 2015 Hotter’N Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls.
This is one of the oldest and largest cycling events in the United States. Bicycle racers and fitness-oriented riders flock to Wichita Falls from virtually every state and several foreign countries Aug. 27 through Aug. 30.
Ben J. “Chip” Filer, executive director of the event, said about 10,000 participants are expected this year.
Larry Brunell said he hadn’t ridden a bicycle in more than 35 years when his son suggested they participate in this race together. The idea originally came from one of the doctors during the kidney surgery.
Speaking of that surgery, Adam Brunell said giving his father one of his kidneys was pretty much a no-brainer.
“I never really had an internal battle as to whether I should donate or not,” he said. “As soon as I found out how serious the situation was, and that we didn’t have much time before my dad’s kidneys would not be able to support him, I knew that I wanted to donate.”
Larry Brunell and Adam Brunell were tested and determined to be a perfect match. The testing of his kidneys was one of the more nerve-wracking parts for Adam Brunell because it was completely out of his control as to whether he would be a match with his father.
“Having the same blood type is not conclusive,” he said. “There a variety of factors that are considered, both mentally and physically, before you are approved as a match, I remember being tense the entire testing period because I don’t know if I would have been able to handle the idea that there was nothing I could do but watch from the sidelines as his health deteriorated.”
However, Adam Brunell did have some qualms about the surgery.
“This was my first major surgery,” Adam Brunell said. “I mean, I had had a few stitches, a few sprains, and a broken bone or two but — this was different. The procedure was much more invasive than anything I had ever experienced and the results were at best uncertain. Fortunately, I had a lot of family support who didn’t just provide support but also asked the tough questions to make sure that I wasn’t making a decision that I may regret later.”
Fortunately, the results were favorable, both father and son said.
In April, Larry Brunell started vigorously training for this race. This wasn’t hard to begin because both father and son come from an athletic background, they both ran cross-country and track in high school.
“I would rather golf but yeah I have good endurance,” Larry Brunell said with a laugh.
In addition to cycling 20 miles around his neighborhood on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Larry Brunell said he has also been participating in various extended bike races around the Metroplex to increase running time.
Getting back to normal after the surgery has been interesting for Adam Brunell.
“Once I left the hospital, I had a few weightlifting restrictions but by the end of week two I was feeling like my old self again,” he said. “Luckily, there have been no complications from the surgery and I am back to working out, rock climbing, running and cycling a few times a week without any issues.”
The kidney problem for Larry Brunell — a diabetic for over 40 years — began when he took a functional creatine test four years ago. The results of that test prompted a physician referral to a kidney specialist. He was told he either needed a transplant for his kidneys or dialysis.
“So many people need kidneys and there are so few donors,” Larry Brunell said. “Both of my kidneys were only functioning at less than 20 percent — and that declined to 5 percent. I would have to come home and take little naps. It wears you out when your kidneys stop functioning.”
Right now Larry Brunell has three kidneys. Rather than simply swapping one out for another they added the son’s to his.
“They placed the kidney above where my thighs would meet at my abdomen.”
Larry Brunell is taking certain medicines — including anti-rejection drugs — to stay stable health-wise.
“The only lifestyle change I have made is more drinking water to stay hydrated and the drugs I have to take,” he said.
Adam Brunell said he has no regrets about the surgery — at all.
“Looking back, if I had to do it over again, I would,” he said.
Larry Brunell, meanwhile, is hoping he might be able to use his experience to help others. He hopes to provide advice to people experiencing medical challenges of their own. He can be reached at 817-301-9229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Brunell wants to remind people who wish to donate a kidney and can’t get an exact match with their target recipient that certain swaps are available to help facilitate that match.
According to the National Kidney Registry, “kidney swapping” can result in an improved match between donor and patient that will increase the chance that the transplanted kidney will function better and longer.
According to the Living Kidney Donor Network, 25 to 30 people in the United States die every day because they can’t get a kidney.
“I want more people to donate and recognize that,” he said.