Neil Ketchledge and his 24-year-old son Korbyn share a lot more than a last name.
“My son gave me one of his kidneys so I could keep on living,” said Neil, 51, recovering in the family’s Kennesaw home three days after the father-and-son transplant surgery at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
Neil Ketchledge settled back into a cushy sofa, relieved his ordeal was over.
“I’m just so blessed,” he said. “I can look forward to living a mostly normal life again,” he said.
Korbyn Ketchledge is recovering from the surgery as well, but will be fine with just one healthy kidney. He’s thrilled to have his dad on the road to better health and renewed vigor.
Neil Ketchledge, his wife Jody-Lynn and their children moved to Kennesaw from Pennsylvania in 2002, when his employers relocated their machine shop business to the area.
“We went to get life insurance, and blood was discovered in my urine. They said I needed to find out why,” he said. “My doctor ran some tests and said I had IgA nephropathy, a disease that damaged small filters inside my kidneys. He said with some people that have it, kidney function decreases but levels off. But sometimes it leads to kidney failure and they need dialysis — and eventually a new kidney.”
It took fifteen years to get to what doctors called a “worst case scenario,” he said.
“My kidney function was less than four per cent, and I had no stamina,” Neil Ketchledge said.
He started three-times a week dialysis in 2017.
Average life expectancy on dialysis is 5 to 10 years, though many patients have lived well on dialysis for 20 or even 30 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
“I worked until early afternoon and then headed to the dialysis center to get hooked up to the machine for three hours, three times a week. My doctor placed me on a waiting list for a transplant,” he said.
As his family considered options, Neil Ketchledge’s older son Neil, Jr. offered one of his kidneys, “but when he was being tested, doctors discovered internal problems that delayed the transplant several months. By the time he was cleared his wife was pregnant with their first child, so he couldn’t do it,” Neil Ketchledge said.
That’s when Korbyn Ketchledge said he would do it, but tests revealed kidney stones which delayed the surgery again – this time for nearly a year.
“Finally, the doctors cleared me. It was just before Christmas,” Korbyn Ketchledge said. “They said the first available surgery date was February 1, and I said, ‘We’ll take it.’ Once I was approved I was ecstatic, because I remember when we first moved here, Dad and I were at Stone Mountain, mountain biking on trails every weekend. We were physically active, but as the years passed, it was less and less. What made me excited was that Dad would have his stamina again and we could get back to the things we used to do.”
The surgery took three hours to complete.
Neil Ketchledge’s new kidney began functioning normally within a few minutes of the procedure, cleansing the body of toxins and producing urine. Both father and son were home three days following the Feb. 1 transplant.
Both work in the same machine shop in Kennesaw. While the younger Ketchledge will be able to return to work in a few weeks, his father’s recovery time will take several months.
Going forward, the senior Ketchledge’s life will carry a few changes. He’s no longer allowed to eat at a buffet or swim in a fresh-water lake due to possible bacterial infections.
“I can still swim in the ocean or a pool containing chlorine,” he said. “I’ll have my energy back and live a mostly normal life.”
The family is anxious about impending medical bills. Though they have some insurance, basic living expenses and high deductible costs will be a challenge. Jody-Lynn Ketchledge took a medical leave of absence from her call center job in Woodstock to help her husband during his recovery, and their bills are quickly mounting.
Friends have established a GoFundMe account to help with expenses at gofundme.com/36qocm8.