Chapter One: Diagnosis
Chapter Two: Donor?
Chapter Three: Dialysis
Chapter Four: Transplant
Chapter Five: Recovery
From My Lens

by amber hunt
MARCH 15, 2000 -- John Martin is the kind of guy who'll break into a falsetto -- loud and off-key -- to mock annoying pop tunes on the radio.

He's the type of person who likes what he likes and dismisses what he doesn't, his perfectionism seeping into every aspect of his life, from his job as a photojournalist to his myriad of hobbies.

He's one of those people whose hyper enthusiasm can be infectious, no matter how glum your mood.

And, like most people, he can be the world's biggest pain in the butt, if that's what his mood dictates that day.

For the past 14 months, however, it feels like all those characteristics have slowly slipped to the back burner, because for now, John Martin mostly is a guy who wants to beat a life-threatening kidney disorder.

John knew from age 7 that he had Alport's Syndrome, a hereditary condition that ultimately would lead to the deterioration of his kidneys. In January '99, he learned he'd lost 80 percent of his kidney function; a transplant was on the not-so-distant horizon.

I met John shortly after this revelation. In the year we've been dating, his condition has never been what defines him. In fact, he usually dismisses it -- it's not something he particularly likes, after all -- but as the disorder has progressed, it has pushed him from weekly doctor visits to thrice-weekly dialysis treatments to, very soon now, a two-month hiatus from work to heal from a kidney transplant.

It is impossible to ignore the changes in his life. Everything serves as a reminder: the slew of medications he takes each morning and night; the careful choices we make when buying food to ensure he's not eating too much phosphorus or potassium; the barely noticeable bulge beneath his shirt where his perm-cath is attached to his chest.

Through it all, he's remained in amazingly good spirits, poking fun at himself and patiently relaying his story over and over to various co-workers and family members and health care professionals. There have been times I've felt overwhelmed, but he stays collected.

Perhaps that's because there are other reminders, too. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, we sit together in a 15-bed dialysis unit at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. The stories sitting in those chairs, hooked up to dialyzing machines that look like archaic ATMs, are inevitably far worse than John's story.

There is the man who was admitted into the hospital for a heart problem only to learn that his kidneys, too, had failed. His wife sits patiently in the unit's waiting room each night, trying to figure out how so much could go wrong so quickly.

There is the amazingly young-looking grandmother of three whose kidneys failed after a series of childhood infections. She's been on dialysis for a year but has yet to meet with doctors about starting the transplant process.

There are the frail elderly patients whose paperlike skin has to be given special attention after treatments because their blood simply doesn't clot like it used to.

And all of these people arrive, wading through their own illnesses as well as the patients' around them, and they are smiling. Every night.

This Web site is for those people, to help demystify the process through which they all are going. Ever since I met John, it's also been important to him to figure out a way to help people with newly diagnosed kidney failure so that they might have a glimpse of what to expect.

After all, the process hasn't been all bad. It's definitely put things in perspective. Like all couples, John and I have our arguments, usually prompted by something innane. The further the disorder has progressed, the easier it's been to recognize how silly the pointless fights have been and how much we love each other.

The trick is realizing that, despite it all, everything will be OK. Life doesn't stop because a hurdle is thrown in your path. That's what ''survival of the fittest'' is all about.

That's what this ordeal has taught me. When it's all said and done, John will again be the guy singing falsetto, the picky shopper, the ball of sunshine one day and its gloomy shadow the next. And with this Web site, he hopefully will walk away with the knowledge that he brought some peace of mind to other people in his position by shedding light on the process.

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