Old Wounds and Family Scars

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Curt slowly began to regain his health, and by the end of January 1995, he was home. His new kidneys had had to be removed after the rejection, and so in March, he began kidney dialysis. By the fall, he had worked himself back into shape by riding his bike everywhere he went. And he set about waiting for another donor.

His best chance at finding a match was if someone in his own family gave him one, however, and his sister Sabra volunteered so that neither Autumn nor Arron would have to jeopardize their own health. Sabra's family was against her decision, but as Diane, who is not a profane woman, puts it, "Sabra told [her husband] to go fuck himself."

But just before the transplant was to take place, around Christmas, another problem came up: Sometime during the transplant and the subsequent infections, Curt's body chemistry had changed; Sabra was no longer a match for him.

"Curt said, 'I'm gonna ask Arron," Diane says. "He was not going to let Autumn do it, because if she ever wanted to have kids, having one kidney would put her in jeopardy. But Arron, he immediately came to mind."

"I'm not a fan of Western medicine," Arron says. "But this was what my dad wanted. It was what he felt would make his life better, and I felt like, who am I to say no to him? Especially since he honestly felt it would prolong his life."

Arron dove headlong into the transplant process by carefully watching his diet, giving up smoking pot and taking great care of his body. "I decided early on that I was going to do everything I could to prepare my kidney for this," Arron says.

Curt and Arron then went through physical and psychological tests, Arron at the University of California at San Francisco and Curt at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. As it turned out, they matched on four of the critical proteins.

The Denver hospital reviewed, then approved the case, and, on March 6, 1996, the chief of transplant surgery, Dr. Igal Kam, took the kidney out of Arron's left side with the organ's blood vessels intact and handed it off to Dr. Segal, who put it in Curt's body and attached the blood vessels to vessels running into his leg.

When he woke up, Curt says, he "hadn't felt so good in ten years. There was a stunning difference." He was released from the hospital four days later.

Arron didn't feel so good. The doctors had had to cut through a lot of muscle on his left side to get to his kidney, leaving a twelve-inch scar. When he awoke, he was tired and "felt like a piece of me was missing."

Both men recovered, but in the aftermath, everyone in the family had a lot of changes to face.

Curt had been an invalid for the better part of four years, completely dependent on Diane. It took a huge emotional toll on the couple and changed the complexion of their relationship. "No longer were we husband and wife," Curt explains. "It was more like mother and son or nurse and patient. And it's hard to get back to where we were." They are now in marriage counseling.

Arron and Autumn have gone their separate ways again. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with an anthropology degree, Autumn went to France as an exchange student. She returned to the States and took a job as a ski instructor in Silverthorne before moving on to Jackson Hole and eventually settling in Portland, Oregon, where she started working at the zoo. "I needed to get away for a while," Autumn says. "Mom and Dad had to figure things out for themselves after all they had been through, and I just wanted to have fun for a while."

Arron returned to San Francisco and enrolled in the wastewater management program at Humboldt State, his dad's alma mater. He now works at Biosphere 2, in the Arizona desert. "I decided to do something with myself," he says. "I decided that I want to make a difference in the world, and where I can do that is by learning about how water works and helping people in the Third World clean their water."

Arron's body is functioning fine, and Dr. Kam says he shouldn't be at risk for any complications for at least another fifty years.

"I don't worry about that, though," Arron says. "That's something that does not enter my mind. This was about my dad and helping him."

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Sean Neumann