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News / Northwest

WSU professor gets new kidney after ‘40-year journey’

Now in mid-50s, issues began at 15 with lupus diagnosis

By Amanda Sullender, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane
Published: May 23, 2024, 6:04pm

Upon receiving the call he would get a new kidney, Andrew Storfer had a hard time believing it.

Four months earlier, the Washington State University professor had gotten the same call and driven from Pullman to Seattle, only to be told he was not a good fit for that donor kidney. But with his second chance, it became real as he arrived for his surgery.

“I actually got a glimpse of the actual kidney before they put me under,” he said. “I saw a couple of probably surgical fellows sewing something, and I asked if it was my kidney. And they said yes.”

After 40 years on the tipping point of renal failure, Storfer would have a fully functioning kidney.

Storfer was told he may not be able to live a full life when diagnosed with lupus at 15. Undeterred, he went on to study biology and eventually become a college professor — and all the while, the ability for his kidneys to filter toxins out of his blood continued to decline. Last year, his kidneys finally stopped for good, and Storfer was put on dialysis.

Human bodies produce waste and byproduct that must be removed or they will build up and cause death. The kidneys are the primary organs tackling this function — siphoning off these wastes toxic to the body and filtering them out through urine. The process of manually filtering these toxins through dialysis can be cumbersome, lengthy and draining.

According to Storfer, the worst day of his life was the day before he began dialysis.

“On dialysis, I could only do one thing a day. I spent a lot of my day in bed. After doing that one thing for two or three hours, I could not do anything else,” he said.

While many go to dialysis centers for their treatment, Storfer managed his entirely at home. Called peritoneal dialysis, a catheter was placed into his abdomen where a cleansing fluid filtered his blood overnight. The process involves a 60-pound machine that makes it difficult to travel or do much of anything.

For Storfer, the only answer was a kidney transplant. To get one, he needed a live person willing to donate a kidney or to wait an undetermined length of time until a kidney from a deceased donor became available. Long private about his medical difficulties, Storfer opened up to friends and the public to find an individual willing to help him. All of those efforts were unsuccessful.

But in February, he got a call that a kidney was available for him. He needed to drop everything and drive to Seattle. To increase his odds, Storfer was double-listed at both Sacred Heart locally and a Seattle hospital. He was also able to switch his place on the waitlist in Spokane to Seattle, which does more transplants in a year.

“That was probably the best thing I ever did, because it was a week after I made that swap that I got the call,” he said.

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According to his surgeon, Storfer received a “Ferrari of a kidney.” On a hundred-point scale, it was given the second-best rating possible. In his mid-50s, Storfer hopes to keep this kidney for the rest of his life.

Waking up after the surgery, Storfer was “a bit incredulous” at the realization he would not need another dialysis treatment. His blood was tested, and the results were sent to his phone before they were even seen by his doctor.

“I actually cried, because I haven’t had that good of a score in decades. That was the best kidney function I’ve had since I’m 16,” Storfer said.

In the months since his surgery, he has “felt like a new person” who can “live a normal life.” All indications point to his body accepting the kidney. Once it’s been more than a year since his surgery, Storfer hopes to travel to Australia and New Zealand.

“The first-year anniversary is really critical. And I’m already planning an international trip next winter. There is no way I could have done that when I was on dialysis,” he said.

Storfer also was able to return full time to his job at WSU in April.

“The biggest feeling I have right now is just gratitude,” he said. “And I take a little time every day to think about what I’ve been through. It was a 40-year journey that ended in kidney failure. And now I’m just a healthy person.”