Unless you know him personally, you would never know of his fight for life with no kidneys. At 59-years-old, on the surface Randy Edwards is the perfect picture of health. Despite his medical condition he’s well groomed, slim and trim, with a glowing complextion. Until last year, he didn’t know life without kidneys was even possible – today, he’s living proof that it is.
Four years ago, he went to the hospital suffering from dehydration – his hasn’t been the same since. Three times a week, 52 weeks a year, this divorced father of two rises in the wee hours of the morning to make his dialysis appointment at 4am.
Doctors discovered a tumor on his left kidney that was bigger than the kidney itself. He was scheduled for a biopsy and the necessary follow-up procedure at Lahey Hospital, where he was told that the tumor was cancerous, and that it was malignant – not benign.
Asked for his first reaction on hearing he was in for the fight for his life, Mr Edwards replied: “I just wanted to know all of my options. They told me in Bermuda that there was a possibility the tumor would have to be removed, and that I would have to go on dialysis. I took it pretty well because I decided that I was just going to let God handle it.
“They put me on dialysis immediately after the surgery, and I’ve been on three times a week ever since. I go every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4am for three-and-a-half hours, three times a week.”
In 2013 his name was also placed on a transplant list where some recipients wait for years. Others die from complications while waiting for a new kidney. To increase the odds in his favour, his youngest daughter offered her father one of her kidneys.
“Instead of waiting for a donor for two or three years, she decided to give me one of hers,” said Mr Edwards. “At first I had to ask her if she was sure because there’s no going back and she was adamant that’s what she wanted to do – no ifs, ands or buts. They ran extensive tests on both of us and she was a match.”
But during those tests in October he said: “They found the same type of tumors on my right kidney during a regular check up. I didn’t have any pain or anything, if they didn’t tell me I wouldn’t have known.”
Faced with the same situation all over again, only this time he was losing the one kidney he had, he said: “It didn’t surprise me because I was already to the point where I knew anything could happen.” For the second time around he said: “I told myself I was not going to freak out and that I would God handle it again.
“They explained that I could still exist without any kidneys but I would have to stay on dialysis. I was surprised because I didn’t know that you could live without kidneys,” he said. His second kidney was removed at Lahey last November. “I went into surgery in a relaxed mode because I had been through this before,” he said. “The second procedure was a lot less painful.”
“There was only a small incision the second time, which was not as invasive as it was when they removed the big tumor. They needed to make sure all the cancer was removed the first time. The best thing that happened the second time was that the cancer hadn’t spread, so I didn’t need any radiation or chemotherapy after either surgery.
“I was so relieved even though they told me that I would have to wait one or two years to be totally cancer free for a transplant because they didn’t want to give me a new kidney just to have it ravaged by cancer again.”
Asked if he’s discouraged Mr Edwards replied: “I’m only a few months in, but I figured I’ve waited for three years before, and I can wait for two years now, so I’m definitely not worried. “I just don’t think about it and I try to eat as healthy as possible. I’ve been off of red meat and pork for over 30 years, and only eat chicken and fish sometimes. I frequently eat meals without any meat on the plate, and I don’t miss it.”
Otherwise, he said: “I’m doing excellent and I feel great! I don’t have any ailments, I’m still able to get up and go to work and I still sing first tenor with The Ufonics. I’ve been with them for nearly six years now, they’ve been around for years, and I sing with lots of joy in my heart still.”
Members of the group are in the process of organizing a fundraising concert to assist their colleague with medical and travel expenses. “I have HIP and they only cover so much which leaves a lot of money that I have to come up with. The transplant operation costs over $100,000, HIP will pay 60 percent and I will have to the 40 percent of what’s left.”
Battling to pay the associated costs over the past four years, he expressed gratitude to both PALS and the LCCA for “subsidizing” what hasn’t been paid off by his insurance. To date, he said: “I’ve paid back over $10,000 to the LCCA within the past four years. PALS have been more than generous to me and I’m truly grateful for them as well.
He was also happy to hear that insurance coverage for kidney transplants will be increased from $30,000 to $100,000 as of June 1st, with a decrease in costs for dialysis as well. Annual costs to treat the 170 patients on dialysis in Bermuda costs $34 million a year.
Six months into what could be a two-year wait for a transplant, Mr Edwards said both he and his daughter are “taking it in stride”. Until he’s declared cancer-free he said he’s taking it one day at a time.
“Dialysis is a way of life for me because I cannot survive without it. There are days when you don’t want to go, nobody wants to get out of bed that time of day; especially when you’re in a deep sleep. But I have to do it, so it’s become a part of my life.”
Life without kidneys is not so bad.,” he said. “I’m not throwing myself a pity party, although I think that’s just the way I am. But your mental and spiritual wellbeing has a lot to do with how you heal, so I have to stay positive. I do what I have to do and I don’t complain about my situation at all, I’m just grateful that I’m here.”
He also reflected back on the fact that his mother spent the last eight or nine years of her life on dialysis due complications associated with diabetes. “I never thought I would end up receiving the same treatment,” he said.
“If you don’t have anyone in your family or friend on dialysis you won’t know what a lot of people have to go through. We have to rearrange our whole lives and our diets to accommodate our situation. But people don’t really think about it until it happens to them,” he said.
“People generalise and think everyone with a kidney problem has it because they abused alcohol, but the reality is that’s not true. High blood pressure and diabetes contributes to kidney failure. There’s a lot of people on dialysis who are diabetic, there’s some with lupus, and there’s more and more people requiring dialysis every year. And the amount of them who get a kidney transplant is minimal. “I only know of four people who have had transplants since I’ve been on the waiting list. And the waiting list is long, because I was competing with the whole list of people in New England and North America.
Although he still has to wait for a transplant, he said: ” My daughter is saving a lot of time and energy I could have used worrying about whether or not I would get a new kidney.” In the interim he said: “I try not to think about it. But I pray for the day that I will no longer need dialysis, and I pray even more that God keeps me going until then.
“It’s not that hard to deal with if you take care of yourself and do what your doctors advise you to do. You can still live a good life. And if I can do it, so can anyone else going through this.” He also thanked his employers at Island Sole, Dr Stuart McIntosh and Dr Natalie Bennett of the Podiatry Centre for their understanding, and their encouragement, while recovering during the month of November. Now he’s looking forward to performing with, and reaching the high notes with The Ufonics in a fundraising concert to be held sometime during this summer.
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