Nancy Kirsch sits with her husband, Chuck Kirsch, on the front steps of their home in Austin. Nancy underwent a kidney transplant in May and has since been doing better. -- Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com
Nancy Kirsch sits with her husband, Chuck Kirsch, on the front steps of their home in Austin. Nancy underwent a kidney transplant in May and has since been doing better. -- Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

Brother’s kidney donation is a ‘priceless gift’

Published 12:36pm Monday, July 8, 2013

Austin woman doing better after transplant

Nancy Kirsch can’t eat leftovers more than a day old. She can’t dig in her garden, and she has to pop pills like they’re Skittles every day. The Austin woman takes pills that help her take pills, as the sheer amount of medication is hard on her stomach. Her kidneys are shot, and they’ll shrivel up like raisins as time passes. One of her brother’s kidneys, however, is doing well — inside of her body.

Bill Koontz
Bill Koontz

Nancy had a kidney transplant on May 2. Her life will forever be different. Still, she’s OK with that. It’s better than the way things were before the operation.

“I’m immune suppressed, and I know I will be for my whole life,” Nancy said. “But I had more stipulations on me before the transplant.”

Before the transplant, Nancy had to closely watch what she ate. Some simple, everyday foods had too much sodium, or too much potassium. She couldn’t drink orange juice. Potatoes were way out of the question.

Those limitations no longer hold her back, but even after the surgery, she can’t have pomegranate or grape juice, as those would react with her medications.

“That could be life-threatening,” said her husband, Chuck Kirsch, who has stuck by Nancy’s side through doctor visits, surgery and an altered life at home.

Nancy knew she had problems with her kidneys. Doctors previously told her she would need a kidney transplant in three to five years. But that window allows time for denial. Maybe they were wrong, too.

“It wasn’t happening,” Nancy said about needing a transplant. “It just wasn’t going to happen.”

However, the doctors were right. Nancy’s kidneys were functioning at less than 10 percent, at which point a person becomes eligible for a transplant. On Jan. 28, doctors told her she had better start looking for a kidney. Her situation went from “maybe” to “certainty.”

“I was shocked,” Nancy said. “I cried.”

Nancy Kirsch has to take dozens of pills every day because she received a kidney transplant. She even has pils that help her take pills.
Nancy Kirsch has to take dozens of pills every day because she received a kidney transplant. She even has pils that help her take pills.

Nancy started dialysis on Feb. 19. Three times a week, she made trips to Albert Lea. She showed up tired. Hours later, she left tired. Every time, they took 4 pounds of fluid from her body. She thought being on dialysis is no way to live, as Nancy’s mother went through it. When Nancy went through it, she watched others at the hospital slowly drift away from life because of the grueling, tiresome process.

“I didn’t have days anymore,” she said. “I came home. I sat. I took a nap. I didn’t have any energy to do anything.”

However, as one of more than 90,000 people waiting for kidneys, Nancy was lucky. Right away, a half dozen people stepped forward and said, “Take mine.” Her brother, Bill Koontz, of Winona, was first. He wasn’t scared.

“When he found out I needed a kidney, he said, ‘Where do I sign up?’” Nancy said.

While that’s a brave, honorable move by her brother, Koontz said people praise him too much. If he wouldn’t have been the donor, several other people were in line behind him to give their kidneys away, too. He did what family does.

“Sometimes people try to give me way more credit than what’s due,” Koontz said. “It’s for my sister. I was the first in line. I chose to be the first in line because I was the only sibling.”

Koontz knew his sister’s kidneys were failing, but like Nancy, he never thought about a transplant. In fact, he never thought about donating any sort of organ, unless he died. Even so, his driver’s license didn’t have organ donor listed on it. That will change.

“As far as donation, the only thing I ever thought about donating was my body to science at the end,” Koontz said.

Koontz’s life has changed, too, in more ways than just missing one of his kidneys. He has a new perspective on life, and his own health. To donate a kidney, he had to go through extensive testing. Koontz, 57, discovered he was pre-diabetic, had hypertension and needed to change his lifestyle. Now, despite being down a kidney, he’s doing better.

“Thanks to Nancy, I’m healthier,” he said.

Nancy, however, isn’t in the clear. Along with closely monitoring her diet, she’ll have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, so her body won’t reject the kidney. Her immune system will always be suppressed, and she’ll have elevated health risks. Despite those new stipulations, she’s happy. She’s in good spirits. When she talks about the medications, her limitations and astronomically high medical bills, she keeps a straight face. Ask her about her brother, however, and she sniffles, then tears up. Koontz gave the best gift anyone can receive. Nancy will never forget that.

“I can never thank him enough for what he did,” she said. “It’s a gift of life.”

Paying for a kidney transplant

A rummage sale and silent auction fundraiser will help pay for Nancy’s medical bills.

When: July 19 and 20 (rummage sale from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 19 and 8 am. to 3 p.m. on July 20, and silent auction from 1 to 3 p.m. July 20)

Where: Jim’s Marketplace Plaza, 205 11th St. SE Austin

To donate baked goods or other items for the rummage sale or silent auction, contact Chuck at 507-219-9697 and drop off an item at 910 12th Ave. SE, or contact Kris at 507-210-7675 and drop off items at 57039 220th St. Austin.


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