Kidney transplant

MARY AND RICK Nordhues of Syracuse (left) and Todd and Jeannie Cull of Oakland are shown in the Culls’ home. Both couples described Rick's kidney donation to Todd as a life-changing and emotional experience.

OAKLAND — Todd Cull of Oakland never realized how sick he was.

Neither did his family.

Two years ago in January, he was merely getting a physical when he discovered his blood pressure was through the roof. He was referred to the Nebraska Heart Institute in Lincoln, which then sent him to a nephrologist — a doctor who specializes in kidney care.

It's there where he learned he had IgA nephropathy, a kidney disease. It was suggested that he get on a low-sodium, low-protein diet, which by all means seemed to be going well. But as April 2017 rolled around, a bug that both he and his wife, Jeannie, got left him dehydrated, sending Todd back to the doctor.

In September, he was meeting with the Nebraska Medicine in Omaha to discuss a kidney transplant.

* * *

"When can we find out if we're a match?"

That's what Jeannie's sister Mary Nordhues of Syracuse kept asking once she found out a living donor was Todd's best option. Jeannie and Mary are the daughters of Lorraine and Bob Schnitzler of Battle Creek.

With Type O blood, Todd — who is the son of Glenn and Norma Cull of Oakland — could donate to a lot of people but would be able to receive a donation only from someone with the same blood type. He was told, if he had to wait for a cadaver donor, he'd be one of the people waiting the longest.

Another benefit of a kidney from a living donor was that it would start working immediately.

"I'm a registered nurse. I always wanted to do this," Mary said. "I think ever since I knew that Todd got on the list, there was never a doubt, like I want to find out if I'm a match."

Her husband, Rick — whose parents are Joe and Rosalee Nordhues of Randolph — would find out, too.

Rick admits that when he sat down one night with his wife to submit their information to a donor website, he didn't realize how urgent the situation was or how quickly things would start to move.

Then he got the call.

"Your blood's a match," a woman from Nebraska Medicine said.

Being in the middle of coaching football practice, Rick was surprised.

"I just go, 'Wow,' and then I asked, 'Can you tell me approximately what kind of timeline we're talking?’ ” Rick said. "She said, 'Well, usually from this call, it's about four to six weeks.' "

* * *

"I had no idea what you guys were doing, and I don't think you guys knew what I was doing," Rick said, given that the testing process was confidential.

So while Rick was going in for tests one Saturday morning to find out if he was a full match — since being a viable donor depends on more than just blood type — Todd was moving forward in preparing for dialysis that Tuesday.

Jeannie was in the waiting room as Todd was taken back to a surgery room where he was supposed to get a fistula — which takes a vein and an artery and ties them together, expanding the vein. This ensures that when hooked to a dialysis machine, as much blood comes out as goes in, Todd said, and it takes six months for it to develop.

"So I went to get that done, but I got all the way to surgery and the anesthesiologist looked at my finger and said, 'Well what'd you do to your finger?’ ” Todd said. "I had a little Band-Aid on it here, and I said, 'Well I smashed it at work yesterday.’ ”

Just like that, the surgery was canceled because a fistula causes 25 percent of the blood flow to be lost to the hand, diminishing healing power.

They told Todd they'd call him in four weeks.

"We were kind of getting down again, like we needed to have dialysis because he wasn't going to be able to make it without it and we could never get it," Jeannie said. "So we're on our way home and he's kind of joking and I'm like, 'You know what, this is not good.' ... Because I was like really worried and he probably didn't even know how worried."

But that Thursday they got good news. Rick was, in fact, a full match. He'd still have to undergo a chest X-ray, ultrasound, EKG and CT scan to make sure he was healthy enough to donate, but he would eventually be cleared.

"If (Todd) would have went on dialysis, his life expectancy would go down so much more," Mary said. "So for him to have that cut on his finger, I just feel like that was by the grace of God because he did not get the fistula, he did not go on dialysis and that very same week is when we found out that he was a match, like a full match and they're not even blood-related."

Surgery was scheduled for Nov. 29.

* * *

A kidney transplant is so coordinated that Todd said it's almost like a ballet routine.

The donor goes in a half-hour before the recipient and doctors make sure everything is OK before the recipient is ever put under.

The complexity of the procedure makes Todd and Rick thankful for the care they received at Nebraska Medicine, as everything went according to plan.

The first thing their families heard from the doctor once the procedure was done was, "I've seen a lot of kidneys in my day, but that was one beautiful kidney," Mary said.

So they joke that Todd is now perfect thanks to Rick.

But all joking aside, Todd said Rick is his hero and Jeannie credits Rick for giving their family a new start.

The Culls have plenty to look forward to with four children — daughter Katie Cull and boyfriend Scott Winkle; son Charlie Cull and wife Brooke; daughter Kim Went and husband Cale; and daughter Karly Cull. They have a grandson named Carter, with another grandchild on the way.

"I don't know what our year would have been without this," Jeannie said. "But we can move forward and we're going to get strong and it is very very humbling."

Todd felt almost immediately better after the transplant, with the yellow that once clouded his eyes clearing up. And despite Rick getting an infection — which caused him to have to undergo another surgery — he's doing well, too.

"I never once questioned it. I don't know why," Rick said. "I think it was a gift from God, and I feel very fortunate. The whole process, it was like I was trying to talk them into letting me do it."

Rick and Mary have three children — Rachael, Brooklyn and Jackson Nordhues.

The process has been life-changing for everyone involved, and now both the Nordhueses and Culls encourage others to donate as well.

"Being a donor is just so unselfish," Jeannie said. "There's not even the words to describe what they've done for us."

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