For Gert and Lew Pryor, theirs is a love story that is both inspirational and almost surreal. Thirty-two years ago, Gert gave Lewis her heart when she walked down the aisle to say her vows. Unbeknownst to her, she later would give him her kidney and another new beginning.
Diagnosed with diabetes in the late 90s and chronic kidney disease in 2011, Lewis was under the care of his renal team who monitored his numbers closely, keeping things in check. He followed his recommended diet, remained active, and appeared healthy until one day at the gym, he felt winded after riding the bike. Although he had been fighting an upper respiratory infection and didn’t think much about it, his wife wanted to be sure and had a gut instinct insisting he get an echocardiogram. There was significant decrease in his heart function.
Further tests revealed he had three major heart blockages, which led to triple bypass surgery. As a result of his conditions and surgery, his kidney function was knocked down and he was immediately placed on dialysis.
“That was a rough day,” he said. “At that point, we decided to get in touch with UPMC in central Pa. after a recommendation from a friend. It was the best move we could have made.”
April 30, 2018, proved to be a good day. That was when the Pryors had their surgeries. Gert was a perfect match for her husband, but the transplant team wanted to make sure she wouldn’t incur any health problems by donating. One of 13 children, Gert’s family is riddled with cancers and other medical conditions, so genetic testing was required. Without it, she wouldn’t have been allowed to donate. Her results were as joyous as finding out she was a match for her husband.
The Pryors consider Dr. Yang, Dr. Ladie, Dr. Singh, Becky, Nancy, and Tiffany, as well as many others within UPMC in central Pa., integral in their journey.
“Every single person in this whole process was phenomenal. It’s like they put a blanket of compassion around us as we moved through this journey,” she said.
What was equally amazing to Lew was just how good both he and his wife felt following the transplant, or how fast they have been able to return to their daily lives.
“Gert was out of her bed and walking that night. She was discharged in two days and I was sent home in four. I couldn’t believe I was allowed to do things so quickly. I’m going to the gym four to five days a week religiously, and my diabetes is under control,” he said.
The couple also appreciates their family, friends, and even Lew’s high school classmates, who remained a close knit group since they graduated in 1963. Each offered to lend a helping hand with cooking, cleaning, transportation, prayers, or simply through visits. And some of those visitors came from far away.
The couple’s son Chris and his wife, Abbey, who reside in Las Vegas, returned to make sure they were present during the surgery, along with Gert’s niece Felicia who, ironically, used to be a dialysis nurse. She made the trek from Maine and stayed with them for a couple of weeks beyond the transplant.
The outpouring of love and support fills Lew and Gert with immeasurable gratitude. That appreciation extends to anyone who chooses to be a donor, let alone an anonymous living donor. For Gert, she says it’s the best thing she has ever done in her life and an absolute gift to participate in such a life-changing experience.
“Life is beautiful. We’re making plans and our possibilities no longer are limited. We love to travel, attend music concerts, and go to the beach. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
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