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Prescott man needs a kidney, wants thousands of others to receive one too

Tom Swanson is pictured undergoing one of three weekly dialysis treatments. Because Polycystic Kidney Disease, which Swanson suffers from is incurable, dialysis is the next immediate option to keep him alive until he finds a kidney donor. Submitted photo1 / 2
Tom Swanson stands next to his wife Karen Swanson in their home situated in Prescott's countryside. The two graduated from Prescott High School and have raised four sons together. "I never do anything without her," Tom said. Karen was a major influence on Tom to encourage him to reach out for a kidney donor. Rachel Helgeson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

About 95,000 people in the United States as of January 2019 are waiting on a list to receive a kidney, according to the U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation.

Long-time Prescott resident Tom Swanson is one of those thousands in need of a kidney.

Swanson is in the midst of a battle with Polycystic Kidney Disease, an incurable illness which runs in his family.

The 64-year-old was sent to the hospital with an infected, hemorrhaging kidney in December 2018. After he was stabilized and put on dialysis, a blood treatment, he was put on the kidney donor list.

But he and his wife, Karen Swanson, both who graduated from Prescott High School, have found a special cause to stand behind: They want to bring awareness to the need for live kidney donations.

The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research says only 1 in 5 people waiting on the list survive long enough to receive a transplant.

"When it comes to kidneys, everybody's got a spare," Tom said. "Let's say there's 350 million people and 100,000 need a kidney. Out of 350 million let's say 300 million are unable to donate for whatever reason. That would leave 50 million donors. Well, if you just do the math that's 500 people for every person that needs a kidney. We should have a shortage of kidney surgeons to do all the surgeries."

According to the National Kidney Foundation, living with one kidney rarely results in the mild loss of single-kidney function and most people using one kidney lead normal lives with few health problems.

Receiving a live kidney will prevent Tom from waiting an estimated 5-7 years for a kidney from a deceased donor and will grant him more years to spend with his family of four sons, their wives and many grandchildren.

A kidney donation will also allow Tom to return to a more sustainable lifestyle, one which doesn't require him to receive dialysis treatments three times a week in Cottage Grove, Minn.

Dialysis is a treatment process in which blood is purified to replace the normal function of a healthy kidney which filters waste.

The United Network for Organ Sharing states that dialysis only substitutes about 10-15% of the work for which a kidney is responsible.

Tom's oldest brother, Rich Swanson, passed away on dialysis years ago.

"I can see what it does to you, what it can do to you," Tom said. "He wasn't healthy enough to get a transplant."

Throughout Tom's experience, he said he is refusing to allow his story to be one of pity for him and his illness. Because of the quality and location of the local health care system and his personal support system, Tom said he is blessed.

"I've been very fortunate. I don't think it could go any better," he said.

Tom and Karen said they received an "explosive" amount of responses after they initially reached out about Tom's need for a kidney to their local church, Joy Lutheran Church in Prescott, and family and friends.

Tom's four sons were eager to sign up to donate at first. Three of the four, however, have the disease which shows symptoms later in life. The one disease-free son wanted to donate, but Tom turned him down.

"One of his brothers is going to need it one day," Tom said.

Karen was unable to donate a kidney due to her own health issues.

Recently the Swansons found out that a close cousin of his, Mike Weiss, has been accepted to pursue a kidney donation and will be tested further in June of this year.

Weiss, a former Prescott resident and agronomist now living in Pine River, Wis., has always been a steady cousin and friend, Karen said.

"Just from what he's done so far, I struggle to find the words to thank him," Tom said. "How do you thank someone? I need to live a good life for him, to be the best man for him. I need to be an advocate for other people who are searching for kidneys."

Encouraging young drivers who receive their license to check the donor box is one way to advocate for those waiting on the donor list, Tom said. Educating people about kidney donations is also important, he added, which is something that he believes isn't talked about enough.

"What I'm hoping happens here is that selfishly, I first get a kidney and get back to a normal life. But also that other people, because they heard about me, will get it in their brain that 'If I can give Tom a kidney I could give somebody else a kidney'. Give somebody else a chance who is waiting for a kidney," Tom said.

People wishing to donate must undergo tests and evaluations and complete questionnaires before being accepted as a healthy donor. The operation which removes the donor's kidney is minimally invasive and has a short hospital and recovery time. Mayo Clinic asks people to check with their insurance companies about coverage costs.

Those who are interested in becoming a kidney donor can read more information online at Mayo Clinic's website by searching "living-donor transplantation".

Tom Swanson may be reached at 715-441-1973 and Karen Swanson may be reached at 715-441-8691.

Rachel Helgeson

Rachel Helgeson

(651) 301-7864
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