SUMMIT, NJ - Hilltop City resident Dana Henderson and Lauren Karsen have been a couple for just over a year now.
Henderson -- a Summit High School Class of 2000 alum -- is giving a unique anniversary present to Karsen, who is a records clerk with the Summit Police Department.
Henderson's gesture of love to his significant other?
Flowers? No. A heart-shaped box of chocolates? Uh-uh.
Henderson is donating a kidney to Lauren's mom, Karen, who has Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), a hereditary disease that, according to atlantichealth.org, is passed down through families and in which many cysts form in the kidneys, causing them to become enlarged.
Symptoms often do not appear until middle age, with statistics showing 1 in 1,000 Americans are affected with PKD, however the actual number may be more, because some people do not have symptoms.
Persons with PKD have many clusters of cysts in the kidneys. What exactly triggers the cysts to form is unknown. The disease is associated with the aortic aneurysms, brain aneurysms, cysts in the liver, pancreas, and testes, and diverticulaof the colon.
Currently, no preventative treatment can prevent the cysts from forming or enlarging, and the disease gets worse slowly. Eventually it leads to end-stage kidney failure, the treatments for which may include dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Henderson, a Muhlenberg College nursing student with two semesters remaining, works full-time as a patient care technician at Overlook Medical Center in Summit. He also volunteers one day each week at the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad.
His passion for, and proximity to, the medical profession is allowing him to face what is undeniably an emotional and personal journey with a high degree of logic. "I am pretty confident, I have a lot of faith in modern medicine, and transplants in particular."
One of the body's miraculous capabilities is that the lone remaining kidney essentially takes on twice the functioning capacity, making up for the organ that was removed.
When Karen was diagnosed this past February she, like many who find out they have the disease, had no symptoms. At 61, she is -- fortunately -- in otherwise good health, which makes transplant an more viable option.
"It's all been crazy," said Henderson, adding. "Once we found out, it was like 'who's gonna step up.'" Tested for compatibility, Henderson was not the lone option, but assumed that role once another compatible donor was ruled out for health reasons.
Further, If one parent carries the gene, their children have a 50% chance of developing PKD. Once her mother was diagnosed, Lauren and her sister had to get tested. Lauren does not have PKD however, unfortunately, her sister tested positive. Lauren will likely eventually be her sister's donor.
The procedure involving Henderson and Karen will be performed at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston on December 1, appropriately a day that has been designated at #GivingTuesday and calls for folks to help causes and those less fortunate post-Black Friday and after Cyber Monday.
Assuming all goes smoothly, Henderson will be in the hospital for two to three days, and then face another 4-6 weeks of monitored recovery before being able to assume his normal routine.
Henderson's impending, amazing act of selfless giving does not, however, overshadow the fact that his rehab time will place him in some real financial hardship, as his full-time work schedule allows him to pay for his schooling.
Prodded by others, the low-key Henderson finally relented and established a gofundme page, which is collecting donations to make up for his lost wages. In true form, Henderson placed a goal figure on the page of $1,500, which will not be enough to cover the wages he is foregoing.
When asked what the real number is, all Henderson will say is, "It is more than that."
Besides the possible financial hardship he may face, he doesn't hesitate when asked what the most challenging aspect of the situation has been. "Explaining this to my mom has been, by far, the hardest part of this."
Still, given the circumstances, he has no regrets with his decision.
"There is so much more to gain than lose by doing this, how can you regret saving someone's life."
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