At the brink: Getting another chance

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FREEPORT, Ohio – When the phone rang at 2 a.m. one spring morning, Larry’s wife picked up the phone and immediately hung it up in her grogginess. She rolled back over.

When it rang the second time, Larry answered it.

The voice said: “We’ve got one. Get over here.”

He’d had his bag packed for more than a year. He was ready.

The start. Larry Martz was a machinist with his own shop near Akron before retiring and buying 100 acres in Freeport, Ohio, with his wife, Jackie.

They were in the middle of building a log home high on a hill when Larry’s ankles and feet began to swell.

The swelling got worse and Larry had difficulty doing tasks that had once been so simple.

In a particularly severe bout, Larry swelled up to 230 pounds, a big jump from his previous 170 pounds.

When he pushed the skin on his hand, his finger sunk a half inch into the swollen cushion, like pushing on a feather pillow.

That year he spent Valentine’s Day and the two days after in the hospital, having 50 pounds of liquid drained from his body.

Organ failure. The problem was his kidneys. Rather than processing his blood and cleaning out the waste, these toxins were building in his blood and poisoning him from the inside out.

After almost five years of kidney problems, he started dialysis and joined the national list of patients needing an organ transplant.

Three times a week, he left his home at 6 a.m. to visit a dialysis center an hour away. Each session took hours, where his blood was taken out by a machine that filtered the toxins and then returned the clean blood into his body. One needle in and one needle out. Scars up and down his forearms are permanent.

He dropped to 125 pounds during his year of dialysis.

Trekking ahead. Meanwhile, Larry and his wife were in the middle of building their home and, until it was finished, living nearby in a shed with a coal furnace.

But dialysis and extreme fatigue didn’t stop him from working on the house, even if it meant taking an entire day to put in just three runs of insulation.

And, he sometimes tinkered with his favorite Allis Chalmers or old Ford tractor, but not like before.

His wife helped all she could, even with his new diet. She tried every herb she could think of, trying to make his renal food taste like something, anything.

He was only allowed one, 8-ounce glass of liquid per day. His favorite, Jell-O, counted as a liquid. But he knew not to stray from the diet. If he did, he would pay during dialysis with unforgettable, burning cramps.

Reckoning day. In those wee hours of that spring morning while rushing toward the hospital and Larry’s second chance at life, the couple could barely keep the car within the 65-mph speed limit.

“Just leave the car,” a man said, meeting them at the hospital drive.

After a flurry of stamping routine paperwork, he was whisked off to prepare for surgery.

Many hours later, after the transplant was complete, his wife commented that her husband looked better coming out of surgery than going in.

“I thought I was a goner,” Larry, 58, admitted.

April 26 will mark seven years. Seven years that are “extras” to Larry Martz. Seven years and counting from a stranger who died but wanted his organs to live on.

Epilogue. So far, Larry’s body has not rejected the foreign kidney. It was placed in a small pocket near his right hip bone. His own kidneys that failed are still in the middle of his back.

Larry and his doctors aren’t sure why his kidneys broke down but think it may have to do with his allergy to bees.

Thinking back to 1995, the worst of times – when he was undergoing dialysis – he says quietly, “There are just some things you never forget. You just want to cry.”

Larry’s never regained his full strength, but manages to get along fine fixing his tractors and mowing his 5-acre yard. His house – kitchen cabinets and all – is finished.

Details about his many medications are now part of his daily life.

Otherwise, though, he’s resumed his “normal,” pre-kidney-failure life.

“I just appreciate every day now, knowing I almost cashed it in.”

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