There are many kinds of gifts. Some, like the gift IMCA Chief Financial Officer Angie Lutterman gave, are more special than others. When it’s time to give a special gift, she said, you know it.
In 2010 when Lutterman’s husband, Jeff, was suffering from kidney disease and—without a kidney donation—faced with a lifetime of dialysis, Lutterman was ready to give. But she couldn’t. “My whole family was tested and ruled out. Jeff’s whole family was tested and ruled out,” she said.
No matter how willing, many would-be kidney donors are ruled out either by a mismatched blood type or scores of other factors.
Donating, it turns out, is not easy, Lutterman said. Then, her sister-in-law’s brother, Brian Rutherford, matched. Lutterman’s husband got the kidney he needed, thanks to Rutherford’s donation.
That’s where the story starts.
L-R: Doug Knauff, Angie Lutterman, Jeff Lutterman
In 2013, Lutterman family friend Doug Knauff, an active aeronautic systems trainer and devoted school lacrosse coach, wasn’t feeling well. He felt run down, lazy. He saw his doctor. He was treated for a virus he didn’t have. When a rash developed, he was treated for eczema he didn’t have.
By the end of 2013, Knauff’s wife directed him to another doctor for tests, and the surprise results he got in early January were bad. He was in kidney failure and close to death. Toxins coursed through his veins. “The doctor called me and said: ‘Check yourself into an emergency room. Now,’” Knauff said.
Knauff spent a week in intensive care. He emerged dependent on dialysis to stay alive. It was a grueling routine that required almost daily trips to a medical center or being hooked up to a machine for long, sleepless nights while his blood was filtered of the poisons his body produced.
Lutterman, 47, saw her friend’s life changing. She saw Knauff’s devotion to the children he coached and the good he shared. She saw the one friend who visited her husband when he was in the hospital with his own kidney failure. She saw her chance, and she knew from experience, there is no way a person can buy a way out of that situation. “I knew the life change that it meant for Jeff. I knew it was my chance to pay it forward,” she said. “How could I not?”
Lutterman volunteered to donate a kidney and went through a battery of tests, visits with social workers, nurses, doctors, even a CT scan. Did she qualify medically as a match? Was she sure she wanted to do this? She did. She was.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Knauff, 48, said. “I mean, how do you ask for something like that? I didn’t know what to say. I even felt guilty. What did I do to need a kidney that someone else could be using? Angie was the strong one there. She was a lot stronger than I was.”
They sat with each other in the waiting room before their operations. They saw each other in the recovery area. “The first thing they said I asked when I came out was: ‘Can I please see my wife?’” Knauff said. “The next thing was: ‘Where’s Angie? Is she in pain?’”
Gone are the days of massive, invasive procedures and months of recovery. Lutterman said the surgery was quick and that recovering was virtually painless. After three small incisions, her kidney was removed. She was back at her desk at IMCA in 10 days and playing tennis in six weeks.
In the aftermath, Lutterman said she wants to spread the word. Donating a kidney, she insists, is something almost anyone can do. The donation has meant little change in her daily life. She drinks more water, steers clear of some pain relievers. That’s about it. “I forget every day that I only have one kidney,” she said.
But for Doug Knauff, and for Jeff Lutterman, donations changed, maybe saved, their lives. “I had a hard time, after, trying to thank her,” Knauff said. “I thought, ‘Do I buy her a car?’ What do I do to say thank you? But then a friend told me, when you add a dollar amount to something, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s not a gift. What she did for me is priceless. There’s nothing I can ever do to repay her.”
Lutterman said there is: Pay it forward.
“I feel like I got something. I got to see Doug celebrate when he returned his dialysis equipment. I get to see how his life changed,” she said. “There will come a day when Doug will see the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. That time will come. It will. And he’ll know.”
Kidney Disease Facts
One in three American adults is currently at risk for developing kidney disease. The risk increases to one in two over the course of a lifetime.
One in nine American adults has kidney disease—and most don’t know it.
High blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of kidney disease.
Because kidney disease often has no symptoms, it can go undetected until it is very advanced.
Every day, 14 people die waiting for a kidney.
Source: National Kidney Foundation, www.kidney.org