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Moments: Kidney transplant gives Donald his freedom back

“There were some days when I had a really hopeless feeling, when I thought: ‘Is this going to be the rest of my life?'"
Donald Adderley (center) is an avid sports referee, officiating an average of four games a week. But his chronic kidney disease threatened to undermine his ability to pursue his interests. Adderley received a kidney transplant at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in 2012.

Four years. Three nights a week. 7.5 hours each night.

Those numbers were a prison for Donald Adderley. After his kidneys failed in 2009, the former football player, ardent sports referee and father of two spent more than 22 hours each week tethered to a dialysis machine.

Adderley refused to let his kidney disease impact his busy schedule; he began routine overnight dialysis—doing his best to sleep while the medical equipment filtered his blood of toxins. During the day, he worked full time, cared for his family and refereed an average of four football games each week.

But it wasn’t enough.

“There were some days when I had a really hopeless feeling, when I thought: ‘Is this going to be the rest of my life? Am I going to go through another thirty years of this?’” Adderley said. “You really have to keep those thoughts at bay.”

Learn more about our Solid Organ Transplant Program.

Adderley’s father also suffered from kidney disease. Adderley was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 1998, and had watched his own kidney function gradually decline. As kidney function falters, an individual’s energy levels often drop, and the risk for other health complications—like high blood pressure, anemia and nerve damage—increases. Adderley’s own skin color went ashen, and he struggled with energy loss. Routine dialysis hampered Adderley’s productive life.

“You’re constantly thinking about your dialysis schedule. If you take a trip, you have to plan ahead months in advance,” Adderley said. “You have to make an appointment to be seen at the remote site you’re going to—and hope they can fit you in and accept your insurance.”

Jackie Longendyke, one of Adderley’s business associates, underwent kidney donor testing on Adderley’s behalf in 2012. A battery of tests determined that she was a match. That December, she visited Adderley’s office and announced that she planned to give him an “early Christmas present”: A kidney.

Adderley and his donor scheduled the surgery for Feb. 12, 2013, at University of Minnesota Medical Center. Adderley’s transplant surgeon was Timothy Pruett, MD, the chief of the transplant program and the John S. Najarian Surgical Chair in Clinical Transplantation. His donor’s surgeon was Raja Kandaswamy, MD.

“The nursing staff and doctors were great in answering questions and taking care of me while I was in the hospital. Dr. Pruett and Dr. [Naim] Issa in particular were very generous with their time when talking with me, answering every question I had without rushing through it.”

It wasn’t Adderley’s first surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. In 2008, Adderley lost 138 pounds after gastric bypass surgery.

The transplant gave Adderley the freedom back. Although he always fought to maintain his activities in the face of frequent dialysis, he now had more energy and time to reinvest into the things he loved, like refereeing. Adderley currently refs high school football, Gopher football practices, adaptive floor hockey for cognitively impaired students and fast pitch softball.

“I played sports in high school and college, and refereeing is a way to stay involved in the game, it’s a great way to exercise,” Adderley said. “I believe we’re all teachers out there, and on the field I’m teaching sportsmanship, communication with people, how to resolve conflict. “Everything I do, I know that kids are watching.”