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December 09th, 2019

Liberal’s Mark West shares a light moment with Pratt’s James Sheldon. Both work in law enforcement, and Ward recenlty donated a kidney to Sheldon. Courtesy photo

ELLY GRIMM 

• Leader & Times

On average, more than 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month, and 13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Further statistics show in 2014, 4,761 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant and another 3,668 people became too sick to receive a kidney transplant.

Earlier this year, Pratt Police Department officer James Sheldon was among those waiting for a new kidney, having been diagnosed with a polycystic kidney only two and a half years ago. Sheldon ultimately received a new kidney from a living donor at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. Like many other organ transplant situations, finding the donor was nothing short of a miracle. 

Until Liberal Police Department officer Mark West came on to the scene earlier this year.

“What happened is I work with a pair of officers with the Liberal Police Department and I found out their son, Wiley, needed a kidney and because of some complications, they weren't able to be the donors,” West said. “So the whole process started last December and then I started undergoing all the testing in either March or April this year, which took quite a while and then I ultimately found out I wasn't a match for their son. Then one day I was talking to the transplant nurse there at the hospital named Samantha Brenner and she told me about this match program where I would donate to someone and then someone else would donate to Wiley, and I told her that was something I wanted to do.”

Ultimately, West’s donation would go to Sheldon and the surgery took place Oct. 14 in Kansas City. The process before the surgery took place, as West tells it, was quite extensive. 

“It was a very emotional thing for all of us, there were a lot of phone calls during the process and I was told more than once 'There's something else they need you to do' as far as tests and things like that,” West said. “They ultimately ended up taking what felt like several gallons of blood for testing and everything, there was a lot of blood drawn, and I spent a full day up in Kansas City for testing. Then there were the follow-up appointments to do and all of that, so it was quite extensive and there was a lot to be done. But overall, it was a very rewarding experience and I'm glad I was able to do so. Then it was about July or August when we got the all-clear from the doctors and team and got everything scheduled.”

The process for Sheldon before he got his new kidney, as he told his story to The Pratt Tribune, was also quite extensive. 

“Sheldon was born with just one kidney and the disease made it larger than a football. The cysts tend to slough off and cause health issues,” the Tribune article noted. “Sheldon had suffered for decades with the problem but the changes had been gradual and it wasn’t until he was having back pain that he went to Dr. Steven Donnenwerth in Pratt. A large growth was discovered on Sheldon’s left side that turned out to be his kidney. The cysts were bursting and causing Sheldon a lot of pain. It was also at this visit that he found out that he only had one kidney. He was recommended to a nephrologist in Wichita and found out his kidney was only functioning at 12 percent. Sheldon was placed on the Midwest Transplant Network. Sheldon’s health continued to decline and was told he should go on dialysis but he didn’t want to do that. But his situation had gotten so bad, if he didn’t go on dialysis, he wouldn’t live long enough to get a kidney transplant. Sheldon continued to work 12 hour shifts at the police department and made several trips to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City for possible transplant. He was excited but scared at the same time.”

Upon the doctor giving the all-clear for the surgery to go ahead, West said there were a lot of emotions for everyone associated to go through. 

“I tend to be a rather private person, and I want to be thankful to all the people who were involved with this, I couldn't have done this without them. My son actually had kidney problems and if I'd been able to do so and if this hadn't come along, I would have absolutely donated to him,” West said. “But God cleared the way for me to be able to do this and my wife was amazing throughout this whole process. And I also couldn't have done this without the guys at the police department because I was off for a couple weeks and I've been on light duty ever since I came back to work, everyone at work has been great about this and they've asked how I'm feeling on any particular day and if I feel up to this or that. I find it amazing how everything came together. And I didn't even know the person my kidney went to, I just knew Wiley would also get a kidney, and that was my primary motivation for doing this. It was just such an amazing experience to do this for him and if I could, I'd do it all over again.”

Overall, West said, the surgery was an incredible experience, and after the surgery was completed, he and Sheldon found much in common. 

“A very quick friendship grew out of it and we talked a lot about work and life and other things, and I actually still talk to him pretty frequently. We've got just so much in common, with one of the big things being we’re both patrol lieutenants on our forces, and it was just overall great meeting him afterward,” West said. “It was just a wonderful experience. I met James and he's a friend now, my relationship with my wife also became closer because for two weeks she took care of everything for me. My sisters also came from Colorado for a little while and spent some time with me in the hospital and then my sister who lives in Kismet also came and helped out for a bit. So it really did help deepen some of those relationships. It was also a great lesson to teach my children about not only how organ donation works and how all of that goes, but also how they can't take these things for granted and should help out any way they can. As much as it helped James and Wiley, it also helped me a lot.”

Both West and Sheldon also talked about how blown away they were with the support they received. 

“I was really surprised with how much the police department supported me. The week before we all left, they got together and everyone put money in a hat and after that happened, all of my financial concerns for that immediate period were taken care of, it was amazing how they came together,” West said. “It's a great brotherhood with those guys and I'm blown away with how awesome they've been.”

“I hugged everybody. I cried, I was pretty emotional,” said Sheldon about the meeting in The Pratt Tribune story. “I was amazed how much better I felt instantly. I didn’t know I could feel that good.” 

And since the surgery, both Sheldon and West have been doing very well and have big plans for the future. 

“Since the surgery, Sheldon is on anti rejection medication and his immune system is low. He is on a couple of other medications but eventually he will get off those and get his immune system built up so he can go back to work,” Sheldon’s story in The Pratt Tribune noted. “And now that he has a good kidney, Sheldon has big plans, including wanting to get into shape and run a 5K race in just seven months. There is another surgery ahead for Sheldon. He still has his original kidney. It will never stop growing so it will have to be removed. But doctors want to wait until the transplant is completely healed before doing the second surgery. No date is planned for the second surgery but it could be six months, Sheldon said.”

“Everything's been great, I'm back at work on light duty and I can work all day by now. I'm definitely gaining my strength back after everything,” West said. “It's been slightly more than a month since the surgery and I'm doing great overall, so much so I almost forget I had such a major surgery.”

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