Woman to give life-sav­ing kid­ney to a man she’s barely known

The Covington News - - Front page - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­

Vince Lowe is a sight. He’s a big, burly biker, with a pieced sep­tum, dozens of tat­toos, a bald head and bright, search­ing eyes.

Katy John­son might be a seer. She’s en­er­getic, quick with a joke, ir­rev­er­ent and spon­ta­neous.

From the mo­ment John­son saw Lowe sit­ting across the bar, she saw some­thing truly spe­cial, some­thing dif­fer­ent from what the rest of the world saw.

“He puts off a very pos­i­tive aura; it’s like a beam,” John­son said. “I just wanted to know who he was.”

Sure, she was in­trigued by his ex­te­rior at first. She’s never been a biker but she has al­ways loved to ride and the cul­ture that goes with it.

“I was sit­ting at ta­ble with my buddy, and I saw him at a ta­ble across from us, and I said, ‘I need to get my pic­ture made with him,’” John­son said.

Her friend Crys­tal Miller al­ready knew Lowe, and en­cour­aged John­son to go over and get her pic­ture, but John­son de­cided that would be weird. Her thought was a lit­tle ironic given their ac­tual in­tro­duc­tion sev­eral months later.

“Vince, this is your new stalker,” Miller told Lowe, as she in­tro­duced him to John­son.

Since that first time John­son had seen Lowe, she’d done the Face­book thing.

“His daily mes­sages were so pos­i­tive and up­lift­ing. He had such a great per­son­al­ity that was glow­ing through Face­book. I told Crys­tal I have to meet this guy,” John­son said.

Miller kept her prom­ise, though she made sure to make the in­tro­duc­tion as awk­ward as pos­si­ble.

John­son and Lowe talked a lit­tle bit at that first meet­ing at a biker gath­er­ing at Stone Moun­tain Harley David­son. They kept in touch af­ter that, but lit­tle did Lowe know that John­son’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion had only started. The match is made

“I was very con­cerned and wor­ried I wasn’t go­ing to be a match,” John­son said.

The chances were slim af­ter all, rang­ing some­where be­tween one in 100,000 and one in one mil­lion, de­pend­ing on which ex­pert you ask.

“Once the test­ing was un­der­way, I prayed con­stantly, not for a match, but just that it would be God’s will and if it matched, it was meant to be. It was such a slim chance to be a com­plete stranger and be com­pat­i­ble,” she said.

Yet, dur­ing each of the three cru­cial tests, she passed. They both had O-pos­i­tive blood. They both had the same six-core pro­teins, or hu­man leuko­cyte anti­gens, needed for a transplant, and, fi­nally, Lowe’s blood cells did not at­tack John­son’s dur­ing the cross­match test.

“I just about fell out my chair, the pos­si­bil­ity of that hap­pen­ing…” John­son said. “I cried for a while and got the shakes real bad, just out of ex­cite­ment. To be able to pos­i­tively af­fect some­body’s life that way and com­plete- ly change just about ev­ery as­pect of some­body’s life. I was very, very ex­cited for him. To know what he has to go through on a weekly ba­sis and to know he’s such an in­cred­i­ble up­lift­ing per­son, and in­spired my life in such a way in just a short pe­riod of time. I can’t ex­plain it. I wouldn’t see it any other way. It’s some­thing I have to do. Some­thing I want to do and can’t wait to do.”

Per­fectly matched strangers formed a bond that crossed a 17-year age gap, a gen­der dif­fer­ence and the paths of two peo­ple at dif­fer­ent stages in life.

“It was al­most like a con­nec­tion right there. It’s hard to ex­plain, but it was like we had a bond at that mo­ment,” Lowe said.

“It was meant to be,” John­son said. Bro­ken-down biker

Lowe’s mom never let him have a mo­tor­cy­cle, but that didn’t sti­fle a love for the loud ma­chines. Lowe would just go to his friend’s house, hop on his dad’s bike and take it for a spin.

That sa­ti­ated the de­sire un­til Lowe was able to af­ford his first bike af­ter get­ting mar­ried for the first time.

“You see a lot of guys rid­ing on the road with ra­dios, lis­ten­ing to tunes, but it’s not about that for me. Get­ting on bike, go­ing on a ride, hear­ing the bike, feel­ing the wind, that’s what it’s about. I do a lot of think­ing, con­tem­plat­ing,” Lowe said. “To me, it’s ther­apy, what we as biker call ‘wind ther­apy.’ If you have a prob­lem, you get on bike, and de­pend­ing on the trip, you’ve ei­ther elim­i­nated the prob­lem or don’t re­ally care about it any­more.”

In Jan­uary 1990, his bike be­trayed him with a nasty spill that badly bat­tered his body.

“They were do­ing CAT scans from head to toe be­cause of all the in­juries,” he said. “Even af­ter hav­ing the ac­ci­dent, the first thing I was think­ing was when I would get to re­place the bike I had.”

How­ever, the crash was a bless­ing in dis­guise, as the scans re­vealed that Lowe had poly­cys­tic kid­ney dis­ease. And since it’s a ge­netic dis­ease, Lowe’s fa­ther found out he had the dis­ease too.

Lowe healed from his in­juries and lived a nor­mal life for the next 18 years, but his kid­neys had slowly filled up to around 50 times their nor­mal weight with cysts.

In April 2008, a cyst rup­tured and his side filled with pain. He was in the hospi­tal for four days as they flushed the ex­cess po­tas­sium out of his sys­tem. He kid­ney func­tion had dropped to 7 per­cent of nor­mal. Though they man­aged to tem­po­rar­ily im­prove his kid­ney func­tion, he went on dial­y­sis a few months later, was placed on the transplant list in Au­gust 2009 and had both kid­ney re­moved in De­cem­ber 2009.

He lost 35 pounds overnight. One kid­ney weight 17 pounds; the other weighed 18 pounds. A nor­mal healthy kid­ney weighs a third of a pound or less.

For the past four years, Lowe has been on a gru­el­ing dial­y­sis regime. He wakes up at 4 a.m. three days a week to get to the clinic, where he then spends four hours and 45 min­utes at­tached to the ma­chine and an­other hour or so get­ting hooked and un­hooked.

The dial­y­sis days wipe him out, and he gen­er­ally doesn’t re­cover un­til the af­ter­noon of the fol­low­ing day. Then the process starts again. The process is not only drain­ing, it’s also, at best, a short stop-gap: only half of dial­y­sis pa­tients sur­vive more than three years. It also re­quires al­most a full life­style change.

“It’s hard to travel, and when­ever I do get to travel, I have to plan a month in ad­vance, be­cause I have to have a chest X-ray and do a tu­ber­cu­lo­sis test,” Lowe said. “I’ve also had to change my diet. Ev­ery­thing I love is bad for me and I have to watch what I eat, es­pe­cially things with phos­pho­rous and po­tas- sium. I’ve al­ways been a big meat and pota­toes guy, and pota­toes are out.”

At least he still gets to ride his bike. Be­cause you need it

When Vince got the call that he had a prospec­tive donor, he had no clue who it could be, he re­called as he stroked his long beard on John­son’s porch last week.

“I told (my wife) Lori and we cried just about all day long. We were moved to tears just to know it was some­body we knew (even though we didn’t have a name).”

Once again Crys­tal Miller found her­self in the mid­dle. She broke the news at her birthday in front of dozens of close friends.

“Then when I found out at Crys­tal’s birthday party that it was some­body I’d only known for a short pe­riod of time, it blew me away,” Lowe said.

“It was an emo­tional mo­ment. I had many friends talk about how self­less I was, but to me it just felt the right thing to do,” John­son said.

The pub­lic­ity and non­stop tor­rent of com­ments ac­tu­ally both­ered John­son.

“She called me and said, ‘Vince, I just don’t know what to do. I’m over­whelmed,’” John­son said. “‘This is not what I wanted… I didn’t do it for this, for peo­ple to say ‘Oh Katy, you’re self­less and an an­gel.’ I did this be­cause you need this.

“‘To me, if to­day you need your grass cut, that would be what I would do for you, but you need a kid­ney to­day, and that’s what I want to do.’”

Lowe, wife Lori and oth­ers had to push her to share her story.

“She’s fi­nally get­ting the recog­ni­tion,” Lowe said, as John­son rolled her eyes.

“And now he’s go­ing to have lady parts,” Lowe said. “You’re go­ing to have lady parts, Vin­cent.”

The hope is that he’ll have his nice, new lady or­gan just in time for Christ­mas.

Rachel Goff /The Cov­ing­ton News

Katy John­son de­cided to do­nate her kid­ney to Vince Lowe af­ter only know­ing him for a short pe­riod of time.

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