Local man loses over 40 lbs. to donate kidney to brother

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Around three years ago when Dennis Epperly's brother Charles learned that he needed a kidney transplant, Dennis didn't think twice about offering one of his own.

"It's selfish on my part," said Dennis. "I want to have my brother around as long as I?can. I'm going to do whatever it takes to do that."

Although Dennis immediately offered Charles one of his kidneys, Charles was reluctant to take the organ from his sibling.

"When he called me and said he needed a kidney I said, 'You can have one of mine,'" said Dennis. "There was a period of around two years where he wasn't ready for me to do it though.

"He thought I might have health problems some day so he kept putting me off. I kept aggravating and aggravating him," said Dennis. "I kept asking him to get me the material and he finally gave in."

Dennis called the St. Louis University Medical Center to talk with a specialist about his plan to donate a kidney to his brother.

"The first time I talked to the woman at St. Louis University she asked me what I weighed and I told her," said Dennis. "She asked how I carry my weight and I told her most of my weight is behind me. It always has been."

Dennis was told that he would need to lose around 70 pounds in order to donate a kidney to his brother. At that time he weighed close to 300 pounds.

"For the first two months I?just cut down on what I ate and walked at home," said Dennis. "By November I had lost around 17 pounds, but I knew that the weigh wasn't coming off fast enough."

In order to speed up his weight lose in a healthy way, Dennis joined the Jack Byrd Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, which is located in the lower level of St. John's Hospital-Cassville, at the beginning of November.

"If I said I was just going to walk at home I wouldn't," said Dennis. "I knew if I paid my $25 or $30 to go somewhere and invested something it in I would do it."

With the support of two local women, Desiree Corn and Jennifer Dougherty, Dennis has lost an additional 25 pounds during the last month and a half.

"They have me on one machine that is called the elliptical that has you going around and around like a hamster in a cage," said Dennis. "Then they have me do a bicycle and a stairstep machine and it's awful.

"The staff is very good," said Dennis. "They are all interested in what I'm doing. It's the best thing I've ever done."

Dennis visits the Jack Byrd Wellness Center two times a day. He works out for 30 minutes each morning and an hour or longer each afternoon.

"I'm there at 4:45 in the morning and again at 4:45 in the afternoon," said Dennis. "They told me I would need to work out 90 minutes a day to lose the weight I wanted to lose and so that's what I'm doing. I do whatever Jennifer tells me to do."

The Wellness Center staff has also given Dennis tips about nutrition, but he is not on a strict diet.

"A long time ago someone told me that if you eat less and exercise more you will lose weight," said Dennis. "I don't eat a lot of sugar or anything because diabetes runs in my family, but I eat fruits and vegetables and I quit when I am full. I have ate a lot of salads."

Dennis hopes to lose at least 31 more pounds over the next four months, which will place him at the proper weight for the kidney donation surgery.

"My target date is April," said Dennis. "I don't know what anyone else is thinking, but I would like to do it in April because I started a new job last January in the poultry business and I will have a lull in April. Plus, that will give me time to heal by June when I'm supposed to go to Portland, Maine."

In addition to exercising to improve his overall health, over the last few months Dennis has submitted to stress tests, blood tests and urine tests to determine if he will be able to donate a kidney to Charles.

"I'm a five out of six match," said Dennis, "and six means identical twins."

Next month, Dennis will travel to St. Louis to meet with physicians for the first time and undergo a CT scan on his kidney.

When the kidney donation surgery is scheduled next year, physicians could choose to perform a traditional or laparoscopic surgery on Dennis. If physicians perform the laparoscopic surgery Dennis will be out of the hospital within a couple of days and fully recovered within two weeks.

Charles will have to remain in the hospital longer so that doctors can monitor him after the surgery.

Although the exercise that Dennis has participated in has been the most difficult aspect of deciding to donate a kidney to his brother, he says that the pain is very much worth the gain.

"A living donor is better for the recipient," said Dennis. "If everything works out like I hope it will be great for both of us. I will be healthier and he'll be healthier too.

"People think it's a big deal what I'm doing, but it is really no big deal," said Dennis. "I would do this for anyone who I could help, especially my brother."

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