By DAVID SWEARINGEN
STEPHENVILLE (January 3, 2017) – Lots of people got presents this holiday season. But nothing – not that new bike or even that car – could compare to what Stephenville resident, Tena Kirk, received on November 18, 2016 – the gift of life.
She received two kidneys during a transplant surgery performed at Methodist Dallas Hospital by Dr. Dickerman, who has done an enormous number of transplant surgeries.
Tena Cooley Kirk was born in Brownwood on July 8, 1970, and lived there until she completed high school. She has one sister and three brothers. Kirk played varsity tennis for all four years at Brownwood High School. She graduated in 1988 and began attending Tarleton State University that fall. She continued to play tennis competitively for the Tarleton TexAnns Tennis Team for two years.
She met her future husband, Spencer Kirk, and they were married on August 17, 1991. Kirk went on to graduate from TSU in December of that same year with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. Spencer and Tena have two sons, Logan (16) and Luke (13). She and the rest of the Kirk family attend Cottonwood Church in Dublin, as they have since 1997. She said she continues playing tennis and also enjoys being a year-round ‘Soccer Mom’.
Kirk currently works for the Health and Human Services Commision and has since January 1993. In her job, Kirk helps those in need by determining their eligibility for Medicaid, SNAP, and other temporary assistance. She said her favorite part of her job is helping those in need and getting to see their happiness and thankfulness upon receiving assistance.
Kirk was on the receiving end of assistance when she began having kidney health issues in April 2016. Blood work showed she had a high creatinine level in her blood pressure. Creatinine level is a valuable reading doctors use to determine kidney function. Healthy kidneys give a person a low creatinine level, high creatinine levels usually alert doctors there is a problem with the kidneys. Kirk would undergo two biopsies in May 2016 to determine she had a kidney disease known as IgA Nephropathy.
Her doctors immediately started Kirk on a treatment plan of high doses of prednisone in an attempt to slow the progression of the disease. In September, it was determined this treatment was not slowing down the progression of the disease. Kirk was placed on the transplant waiting list in September and donor compatibility testing of her siblings began shortly thereafter. Her younger brother, Nick Cooley, gave up smoking immediately because he learned to be a donor he had to be a non-smoker. He had tried unsuccessfully numerous times before, but this time the incentive of helping his sister out was all he needed to succeed.
While the compatibility testing was going on, a cadaver kidney became available and it just so happened to be a good match for Kirk. She actually received two new kidneys during the transplant surgery due to their smaller size. Her transplant date is November 18, 2016, and this date will now serve as a sort of a second birthday for her from now on. Tena has a strong faith in God and she is very grateful that God made a kidney (actually two kidneys) available to her before she had to go on dialysis. She had already let her family know she had a terrible fear of the dialysis process and leaned on God and her family for strength. Kirk says God continues to be her strength thorughout the process.
The transplant surgery lasted about three hours and, while Kirk has done really well to this point, she will have to take anti-rejection drugs for as long as she has her “new” kidneys. Her doctors will gradually taper these medications down to lower doses as she gets further and further out from her actual transplant date.
Kirk was released from the hospital on November 22, and will be required to go to Dallas for post-transplant check ups to assure her transplant success. For the first several weeks, she made these Dallas trips twice a week. Just recently, she has been allowed to start coming once a week. She will eventually get to once a month visits and, finally, she will continue with once a year visits for as long as she has her kidney(s).
Kirk said she hopes to find out soon when she will be able to return to work. Her doctor will determine when that happens, but right now, the first week in February is being discussed as a possibility.
“I just want to give God all the glory and say thank you to the donor’s family,” Kirk said. “Through the family choosing to donate, it gave me the gift of life. I am forever grateful!”
Those interested in learning more about organ/tissue donation or becoming an organ/tissue donor can go to www.DonateLifeTexas.org. One donor can save numerous lives and enhance the lives of many others.