PULLMAN, Wash. — Later this month Washington State University grants administrator Susan Bentjen will see the outcome of life-changing decisions she has made over the last two years to help a brother – and herself.
Two years ago her brother, Bob Riemenschneider of San Jose, Calif., seriously injured his kidneys in a climbing accident in Yosemite National Park. Although he recovered from his other injuries, loss of kidney function requires him to undergo dialysis three times a week. Riemenschneider, a senior software engineer in the system design laboratory for Stanford Research Institute International in Menlo Park, Calif., has had to curtail his work to three days a week. Finding a donated kidney to receive as a transplant became critical.
Working with the Living Donor Transplant Program at Stanford University Medical Center, his five siblings were tested for tissue compatibility. Bentjen, his youngest sister and a member of the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences and a Pullman resident, was the best match. Much of her blood and tissue sampling was done by Moscow, Idaho, physician Helen Shearer.
Bentjen was pleased to be the one chosen, but there was a hitch. Susan was over the weight guideline that the Living Donor Transplant Program had set for organ donors. “They are very concerned about the health of the donor,” she said, “and I was a big girl. I started on the Weight Watchers program right away and have lost 110 pounds, down to LDTP’s goal of 220 pounds. We have been waiting a year-and-a-half for me to lose the weight, and now we’re ready.
“Bob is 16 years older than I am and I love him. I remember when he was in college, he would come home on vacations and teach me how to read,” she said.
The Angel Flight program will fly Bentjen to San Jose at no cost. There she will be housed without charge in the home of volunteers during her two-week recovery period. The double surgery will be done at the Stanford University Medical Center on June 25.
After the surgery, Bentjen’s remaining kidney will take several weeks to adapt to doing double duty. She is told she will be too tired to return to work until mid August. Her brother’s surgeon will test to make sure her kidney is doing its work for her brother even before his incision is closed. Assuming the kidney is not rejected, Riemenschneider’s life should return much closer to normal.
Bentjen has undergone $2,000 worth of testing. The total cost of the program will come to $250,000.
Not only will she contribute a kidney in two weeks, but she has already lived through 14 months of serious dieting, giving up her six-cans-a-day diet of sugared soda and her favorite fast foods.
She has found it well worth the struggle and even her family is eating healthier–more salads and fruits and vegetables. Susan plans to continue her diet until she meets her Weight Watchers goal by dropping 45 more pounds. Best of all, she will help her favorite brother turn the page to a much happier chapter in his life.