In a time when the vows of marriage seem more “Hollywood” than sacred, a Thompsonville couple is offering hope and witness to the true sanctity of a loving union.
When Marty and Toni Hammers said, “I do,” more than 25 years ago, “through sickness and health” became a living mantra.
In 2007, husband Marty — who’s battled serious health issues since 1983, undergoing nine surgeries related to hydrosyphlis, or ventrical swelling of the brain — was told by his doctor that elevated labs tests indicated potential kidney damage and referred him to a nephrologist. The specialist confirmed that Marty did in fact have Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a common kidney disease damaging its filtering system.
It wasn’t until January of last year, with his kidney function at less than 10 percent, that doctors told Marty he qualified to be on a transplant list.
However, as time kept tolling, decreasing the success rate of a kidney transplant with the passing of every year, wife Toni decided she would have her blood type and antigens tested to see if she had the immunological compatibility of her husband.
The result: a perfect match — a very rare phenomenon, given the battery of tests one must pass in order to be considered a match.
Being a relative of a recipient can only guarantee a match less than 25 percent of the time.
Without hesitation, Toni began the process of becoming a live organ donor.
“I love him so much and have watched him on dialysis and witnessed his ups and downs. One day he feels good, another he is literally wiped out. I couldn’t stand to see him suffer,” she said.
Decision made, Toni faced her first obstacle on the road to saving her husband: a body mass index of less than 35 percent. Now, 77 pounds lighter, she is five pounds from being at her goal weight.
The second obstacle facing the couple was the cost of immunosuppressant medications he would be required to take total more than $7,000 a month.
But like the first obstacle, this, too, will be overcome with her insurance agreeing to pay 80 percent and Medicare coming in to pay close to the 20 percent remaining.
The actual laparoscopic procedure, which will be performed at St. Louis University, is expected to take from two to five hours in surgery, three days in the hospital and less than six weeks of recovery time at home.
Ninety-seven percent of live donor kidneys are fully functional, with 75 percent expected to maintain 10 to 20 years’ working capacity.
There are, however, some risks such as infection and allergic reactions that both are aware of.
Yet despite this, both say they have no fear. “We are at peace with our decision,” Toni said.
They both attribute their faith and in particular, their church family at Faith Assembly in West Frankfort for their ability to weather the storm. Pastor Gary Brown and his wife Becky, along with other friends such as Peggy and Dale Sever, Peggy and John Johnson, Bill and Wanda Walton and Gene Cowsert have served as beacons of light offering prayer, moral support and financial contributions.
“Just when you’re at your lowest point, something or someone comes along and puts you back on top again,” Toni said.
Marty listened admiringly at his wife while she spoke during the interview and held back tears as he reflected upon the grace of others, namely his wife to whom he refers as his “soulmate.”
“She’s my true match,” he said.
At this time, surgery has not been scheduled, but both are hoping to have it done on Valentine’s Day, a day significant for more than the obvious reasons.
Right now, more than 150,000 people are living full and active lives with transplanted kidneys.