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St. Robert parishioner praying for kidney

Joe McGuire

By Charlie Wieser
The Catholic Voice

It all began with sore feet when he was nine years old.

"Everybody thought it was just growing pains," Joe McGuire said.

The pain continued as did chills and a constant feeling of fatigue.

"I was tired and cold a lot," Joe told The Catholic Voice. "I'd be shivering under several blankets."

Joe's doctor ordered a chest x-ray, which "showed some stuff on my lungs."

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., diagnosed Joe as having Wegener's Granulomatosis – a rare autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels. The inflammation damages a patient's vital organs, such as kidneys, heart and lungs, by restricting blood flow to those organs.

In Joe's case, his kidneys were eventually destroyed, forcing him to go on dialysis to stay alive.

Surrounded by love

Fortunately for Joe, he has a loving family – parents Dennis and Mary and two sisters, Becky, a 22-year-old business graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Debbie, a 17-year-old senior at Marian High School – and the spiritual support of parishioners and the pastor at St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Omaha.

"We love Joe and we pray a lot for him," said Father Donald Shane, pastor of the large parish in southwest Omaha. "He's a brave young man who is always fighting to get better."

In 2002, Joe's mom donated one of her kidneys, and a successful transplant surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha led to a return to good health.

"I had two good years," said Joe, a 2000 graduate of St. Robert Bellarmine School who went on to graduate from Creighton Prep in 2004.

"My junior year at Prep was the first year I completed a full year since I got Wegener's (now in remission)," he said. "I also learned to drive that year and I got my first job."

Joe's mom said it was "so much fun" to watch her son enjoy everyday life.

"He was doing things a normal teenager should be doing," Mary McGuire said.

Joe also had a good senior year and graduated with his classmates, but five days after his 18th birthday in June of 2004 he had to return to dialysis due to kidney failure.

"It was very discouraging for Joe," said his dad, Dennis. "As a parent, I just felt helpless because there was nothing I could do."

Kidney donor needed

The McGuire family is now hoping to find a kidney donor for Joe. So far family and friends who have volunteered have been found to be no match.

"We're hoping somebody will donate one of their kidneys to our son," Dennis McGuire said. "The waiting list to get a kidney is at least five years, and dialysis takes a lot out of Joe."

He said his son's need for a kidney has shown him the importance of the organ donor program. "More people should volunteer by marking their driver's license," he said. "There are many possibilities for donors."

People wishing to register as donors can contact the Nebraska Organ Recovery System (733-1800 or, or the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Transplant Office at 552-2440. Anyone interested in donating a kidney to Joe can reach the McGuire family at 333-5072.

It takes so long to receive a transplant organ because nearly 89,000 people in this country are on the waiting list of the United Network for Organ Sharing. About 6,000 of these people are expected to die this year before receiving a donor organ.

But there is good news, with the American Medical Association reporting that organ transplantation is very successful, and medical breakthroughs in the past 20 years, such as tissue typing and improved immunosuppressant drugs, have led to a larger number of organ transplants and a longer survival rate for organ recipients.

Now waits

In the meantime, Joe goes to three-hour dialysis treatments three times every week and waits for news of a donor.

"I'm hoping to get well so I can begin college," said Joe, who turned 19 last month. "My friends have finished their freshman year, and I haven't even started."

Joe also is missing out on a lot of simple pleasures in life because of a restricted diet due to kidney failure. No longer does he eat much fruit or ice cream (causes too much fluid buildup in his body) and he has to closely monitor what he drinks.

"I used to like to cook, but it's no fun now because I can't eat a lot of the food I like, such as spaghetti and meatballs," he said. "I have to be really careful."

Despite his struggles, Joe remains hopeful about the future because he knows a successful kidney transplant can return him to a normal life.

"I really want to finish college, so I can work as part of a transplantation team in a hospital's critical care unit," he said. "I know what it's like to be really sick, so I could be the go-between the patient and doctor."

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