‘That Gift of Life’

How a successful kidney transplant changed Ken Lester

Published in 2018 South Carolina Super Lawyers magazine

By Andrew Brandt on April 30, 2018


My dad lost a kidney when he was in his mid-30s. Out of the four boys and one daughter in our family, I was the one who inherited the problem. When I was in my 50s, in the early 2000s, I was diagnosed with kidney failure. 

I was fortunate that it was a very slow process—some of them are real fast—and that over a hundred people volunteered to donate a kidney to me. Though all were disqualified for one reason or another, it’s very, very humbling when you find out who your friends are during an experience like this.

My wife is an aerobics instructor, and one of the things I have done throughout my life is work out five days a week. It’s difficult for some people in my age group to qualify [for a transplant] because they’re not in top physical shape. I had no problem qualifying. I ended up on the transplant list at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

My doctors indicated I had about six months before I’d have to go on dialysis. [In May 2015], on the way back to Columbia from visiting my mother, we got a call from the National Kidney Foundation. They said they thought they had a match at USC and I was number three on the list. About 11:30 that night, I got another call. They said to not eat anything after 12 o’clock because I had been moved up to number two. Early the next morning, they said, “You have now moved up to number one. You’ll have to get in as soon as you can.”

When we got there, I passed the tests but had to wait to see if I was a match. At about two in the afternoon, my wife said she was tired of waiting and went to see if the nurses knew anything. She came down the hall hollering, “We’re a match! We’re a match!” She looked at me and said, “You don’t look too happy about it.” I said, “I’m very happy, but now I’ve got to go through all this surgery.”

The anesthesiologist gave me my last shot, and said it would be the last thing I’d remember until I woke up in the morning. That was very encouraging: I was going to wake up in the morning.

I woke up around 8:30 and there was a lot of noise out in the hall. I saw my wife hugging the doctor, and I said, “Uh oh, I must not have made it. She’s already picking out her next husband.” It turned out she had taught him in middle school. 

The surgery went well, and my recovery was fast, but I didn’t drink the amount of water I should have. One morning, I woke up very dizzy. We called the transplant team and they said, “You’re not hydrated. You need to drink as much water as you can over the next hour.” I went in for testing, and then they put a big saline bag in me. It took two hours, and then they put another bag in. 

Two weeks go by, and I went back for routine testing; the same nurse is there, and she says, “Mr. Lester, are you hydrated now?” And I said, “Ma’am, you don’t ever have to worry about me not being hydrated again. As a matter of fact, I had a dream last night that I was on a high cliff, and was peeing off it. There was a woman next to me with an iPad, and there was a big sign that said, ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Attempt at a world-record continual peeing taking place.’” 

Now I only have to go down once a year to be checked. 

The things that used to really bother and irritate me all of a sudden don’t seem so important anymore. It’s hard to explain to people how much it changes your life both professionally and personally when you get that gift of life. I was very fortunate to get it and be able to tell my story. 

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