- [S86] McCammon-Ammons-Click Funeral Home, (http://www.mccammonammonsclick.com/), 9 Mar 2002.
Edna G. Graves obituary
- [S27] The Daily Times, http://www.thedailytimes.com/, (Blount County, Tennessee), 20 Jun 2004.
Husband to donate kidney to wife
by Anna C. Irwin
of The Daily Times Staff
''At our family reunions, you'll hear the word `kidney' as often as you hear `please pass the gravy,''' Vickie Connatser Flynn said with a laugh.
Flynn, the Blount/Loudon County congressional office manager for Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., will soon become the family's seventh member to receive a kidney transplant.
She joins her sister, two nephews and three cousins as transplant recipients.
District Attorney General Mike Flynn will give his wife one of his kidneys ''because I love her and I want her to be healthy,'' he said.
''Mike is giving me the greatest gift possible,'' Vickie said.
During dual surgeries scheduled Wednesday, Mike hopes to be the second patient at University of Tennessee Medical Center to have his kidney removed with a laparoscopic procedure. That means he will have several small incisions rather than a single large one and will likely be able to get back to his office more quickly -- about three weeks as opposed to six.
Doctors told the Flynns they'll try laparoscopy but, if problems arise during the surgery, they can modify the procedure and ''open'' the donor to retrieve one of his kidneys.
While he is in one surgical suite, Vickie will be in another and will be opened up to receive the transplant. Each will have their own teams of surgeons.
''It will initially be harder on Mike than on me,'' Vickie said.
She explained that her husband may have a larger incision and will have undergone a more invasive procedure, the removal of a healthy internal organ.
''They just have to put the new kidney inside me and rework the plumbing,'' she said.
''But, you'll have to adjust to taking prednisone and anti-rejection drugs for the rest of your life,'' Mike tells his wife.
The Flynns have known for several years that Vickie might eventually need a kidney transplant. Her older sister, Wilma Connatser Gilbert, received a transplant from a cadaver donor in 1991. Wilma's son Darin Gilbert received a kidney from his father, Edward, in 1995 and another of the Gilberts' sons, Greg Gilbert, received a cadaver donor transplant in 1998.
'''Evelyn Guinn, a cousin in North Carolina, has had her new kidney for 25 years. Bobby Carver, Evelyn's sister's son, got a kidney from his father when Bobby was only 16,'' Vickie Flynn said. ''And, Mark Johnson -- he's a first cousin and was in charge of the Good Samaritan Dental Clinic until it closed -- also has a transplanted kidney.''
Vickie and other family members suffer from Alport syndrome, a hereditary problem that causes chronic kidney inflammation. The eventual result is end stage renal disease requiring dialysis or transplantation.
There is currently no way to prevent Alport syndrome or treat the victims, although Vickie recently learned of an experimental program with those just diagnosed. She said it involves using blood pressure reduction medications, dietary modifications and other measures that may delay the onset of the serious stages of the problem.
Vickie said her doctors have always carefully monitored her kidney function once she learned she had inherited the disease. The efficiency of her kidneys seemed to gradually decreasing over the years but the level of function started dropping more rapidly about a year ago.
''For the last six or seven months, I began to feel really tired,'' Vickie said. ''I'm told I don't feel bad but will realize I did when I start feeling better and can see the difference.''
As Vickie's condition worsened, the Flynns began exploring options. They learned those on the transplant list have a two- to five-year wait. Vickie couldn't wait that long without going on dialysis, and transplant recipients who have been on dialysis don't do nearly as well with their new kidneys.
The Flynns have been married since July 24, 1982, and Mike said they have always assumed he would be tested as a potential donor once Vickie needed a transplant.
''We already knew the blood types were compatible and we had the antigens done in February,'' Mike said. ''We had three out of six. Six would only be identical twins. Lots of brothers and sisters are threes.''
Once they knew they were compatible in terms of an organ transplant, both Vickie and Mike had to see a variety of doctors to be checked for other problems and get anything wrong fixed. Dental work and other maintenance has been done and they were pronounced ready for the surgery.
Doctors wanted to go ahead as soon as possible, but the Flynns wanted to wait for a variety of reasons. The most important was their children -- 16-year-old Maryville High School student Leighann and 19-year-old Zach, who was in his first year at the U.S. Naval Academy.
''I think we're timing things really well, although we may have pushed the window a little bit,'' Mike said, referring to the rapidly deteriorating condition of his wife's kidneys -- now functioning below 10 percent of normal levels. ''She's been seeing the doctor every week, and he's been threatening her with dialysis if we don't get the surgery done.''
Leighann is now out of school for the summer, and Zach completed his plebe year at Annapolis in May. He got back to Maryville Saturday from Okinawa, Japan, where he completed his first assignment for the Navy. He has a six-week break before he goes back to the academy as a midshipman.
The Flynns said their children are happy their mother will soon be out of danger but ''a little scared to have both parents in surgery.''
''We're fortunate they're both responsible teenagers and can help us recuperate,'' Mike said.
In the few days before the surgery, the Flynns were trying to take care of last-minute tasks before she is admitted to the hospital and he officially becomes a patient at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
''The insurance company insists on that because I don't need to be hospitalized until the surgery. At first, our insurance said they would pay for Vickie's surgery but not for the donor's surgery,'' Mike said.
The insurance firm changed that in April, and the policy is expected to cover both patients.
The Flynns said they intentionally kept their preparations for the dual surgeries low-key until the last few days when they started letting people know what was about to happen.
''Now we're on more prayer lists than I can count,'' Mike said. ''We really appreciate everyone's support and concern. There are never too many prayers.''
Vickie said one of her high school classmates, Maryville Firefighter Russ Brewer, came by to see her at her office and they talked about an hour. In March 2003, Brewer received a kidney donated by fellow firefighter Charles Martinez.
''Russ told me about what to expect and gave me a lot of encouragement,'' Vickie said. ''I'm hoping Mike can talk to Charlie before our surgery.''
Among the things Vickie hopes for after the surgery is ''that we're back to Mike instead of me napping on the sofa after dinner.''
Mike joked that he hopes the transplant includes giving his wife some of his love of football. She points out he now has three sets of season tickets -- for UT, Maryville High and the Naval Academy added last fall. She is a reluctant fan.
''That's another reason this is well-timed,'' he said, smiling broadly at Vickie. ''We'll be fully recovered when the season begins.''
''One of the things I'm looking forward to in September is my 30th Everett High School class reunion,'' Vickie said. ''I'll bet I'm the only one there with a new kidney.''
The couple has used their sense of humor to help them through the last few months and expect that to help them through recovery. However, they hope no one makes them laugh too hard until their incisions heal.