For the Kozioleks, it was all up to Paul

Saturday, March 30, 2002

About a year and a half ago, Leon Koziolek of Freeborn was told to begin looking for someone in his family who might be able to donate a kidney to him. "We procrastinated," admitted his son, Paul. "He looked OK to us at the time."

But Leon was not OK. Originally diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease at age 35 -- 33 years ago -- Leon was treated for high blood pressure. "The kidneys control the blood pressure," he explained. "I was taking so much blood pressure medicine it was ridiculous."

On Nov. 29, 2001, he began dialysis in Rochester. There were no available spots for him to receive it in Albert Lea, Austin or Mankato. He received dialysis every day for four hours.

"But it still wasn't cleaning out the toxins," Leon said. His health further deteriorated at Christmas time.

It was about the time Leon began dialysis that Paul underwent the tests to see if he was suitable as a donor. Polycystic kidney disease is hereditary. Three of Leon's six siblings have PKD, and two of his sons and his daughter had already been diagnosed with the disease in its early stages. When Paul's remaining brother was also diagnosed, it was up to him.

Paul had the same blood type as his father, and further testing revealed two healthy kidneys.

"I thought, 'Now I have a decision to make,'" he recalled. "But it really was an easy decision with the lifestyle Dad had led. He didn't smoke and he didn't drink. Plus, with my brothers and sisters, Dad and Mom never raised us to be selfish kids.

"I guess I look at it this way: He put me on this Earth. I'm going to help keep him here," Paul added.

The family was given some dates from which to choose for the transplant surgery, and because Paul farms, he didn't want to be recovering from surgery when he needed to be doing the spring planting. "I wanted to be ready to go without a problem," he said.

So they chose Jan. 18.

For Paul, two very small incisions - for the instruments and the tools - and one larger one were needed. "They've changed the surgery so it's not so invasive for the donor," Paul said. "They're very confident people."

Paul was in the hospital for three days following the surgery.

"The toughest part for me was afterward. Is it really going to work? You just count your blessings that everything works," Paul said.

He was told to recuperate fully for four weeks before getting back to work full time. "Two weeks afterward I felt really good," he said.

He can't say enough about support from family members and neighbors at that point. His younger brother stepped in to do the chores around the farm.

Leon's own kidneys had to be removed, and were covered with cysts. Together, they weighed 13 pounds, and were the size of footballs.

"I never really had any pain, though," Leon said. "As bad as they were, I never had any pain."

Right away after the surgery, Leon could already see the difference the new kidney was making. "You wouldn't believe the change in me in just 24 hours," he said.

But his adrenal gland had that new kidney working hard - too hard, really, and Leon became dehydrated. Once doctors got that regulated, things were much better. The other complication Leon has encountered is post-operative diabetes. But it's regulated with insulin, and he can definitely feel the difference.

He's stronger, and Paul says the surgery really hasn't slowed his father down.

"If you look at him now versus how he looked in the last year, you can really tell the difference," Paul said.

Leon takes a number of medications now to fight rejection, but blood pressure medicine is not one of them.

"It's been a blessing in disguise to get off the blood pressure medicine," he said.

The whole family has the utmost respect for the technology available through Rochester's Mayo Clinic. There, some five or six kidney transplants are done each week.

"We never realized how many people this does affect," Paul said.