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After receiving the news that he had kidney cancer in May of 2005, Ridgeway native and Rockwell retiree Charlie Wingfield of Kenton said it was “pretty scary.”
It was especially scary, he added, because the cancer had consumed one whole kidney and the other had a tumor.
“I didn’t know what to expect after that,” Charlie said, “but the doctor said, ‘I’m going to operate and I’m going to take care of you.’”
Not much of a chance was given to Charlie, he said, but one-and-a-half kidneys were successfully removed from his body.
Immediately after the surgery, the doctors informed him they didn’t think that had gotten all the cancer, but all they possibly could without removing both kidneys.
“When they took his kidney out, that day, after surgery, they said, ‘We couldn’t get all the cancer, but if we took any more, he’d be on dialysis immediately. We didn’t want that, so we left as much kidney as we could,’” said Charlie’s younger brother, Bob Wingfield, also a Ridgeway native who now lives in Kenton.
But fortunately for Charlie, just a few days later when Bob was down to visit, the doctors came into his hospital room with some great news.
“I was down there three or four days after the surgery seeing (Charlie) and the doctor came back in and said, ‘We hit a home run.’ They had a clear margin and found no cancer in that,” Bob said.
“The doctor said ‘We’ve got all the cancer and we left you enough kidney to live on,’” Charlie said.
In learning he had successfully been rid of cancer, Charlie had also avoided having to go through chemotherapy and dialysis.
After finding out the good news, the doctors had informed Charlie that after a five-year cancer-free period, he would be eligible to receive a kidney transplant.
Charlie managed to make it seven years without needing a transplant, but his half of a kidney had begun to grow weak.
“The last time I talked to my kidney doctor before this, he looked at my numbers and he said ‘It’s looking to be crunch time,’” Charlie said.
The search for possible donors didn’t have to go far as all three of Charlie’s brothers – Bob, Bill and Tom – had all agreed to donate one of their kidneys.
“My nurse called me from the renal clinic in Lima and said to have my brothers call her. Within 45 minutes, all my brothers called,” Charlie said. “We’re a pretty close family; a lot closer than some.”
All three brothers were positive matches to donate, so the doctors began looking at the health of each brother.
Bill, the second oldest of the brothers, was taking certain medications for high blood pressure and determined to be a last resort for the procedure.
It then came down to Bob and the youngest of the four, Tom. It was to the point, Bob said, that it was looking as though either brother could be the donor.
“Tom and I talked about just flipping a coin,” Bob said.
According to Bob, it looked as though Charlie would be able to receive a kidney in late November or early December. This time wasn’t quite the ideal time for Bob to be hung up from surgery.
“Starting in January is a very busy time for me and my crop insurance business, so I said, ‘Tom, I don’t want to hold Charlie up, and I don’t want to be, in the middle of a crop insurance year, giving a kidney then,’” Bob said. “So I just told Tom he could go first.”
After going through the necessary physical and tests to donate a kidney, Tom found out some news of his own that would affect himself and Charlie as well.
“When they got to the last test, they found (Tom) had a partial dissection of an artery in his leg. The doctor told him he wasn’t a candidate and that he needed to start watching it,” Bob said. “Tom is being tested every year now, making sure that isn’t getting any bigger. So it’s lucky in a way that he found that, and if it gets any worse, he’ll know.”
Added Charlie, “(Tom) thanked me for the physical because he got the best physical of his life.”
Knowing that he now was the sole brother left to donate a kidney, Bob went through the same tests and was later approved to go ahead with the procedure. The date March 27, 2012 was set for the operation.
According to Bob, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make to go through with donating his kidney to his older brother.
“My grandkids make me realize how much I want Charlie to be around for his grandkids as well,” Bob said.
Since receiving Bob’s kidney, Charlie said it’s “doing its job.”
“It’s a lot better than what I had,” Charlie said. “I’ve got to say I’m feeling better; everybody tells me I look better.”
Also since the operation, Charlie is no longer bound to his strict renal diet he was put on after entering stage four of his kidney cancer. The rigid diet, Charlie said, allowed him just seven ounces of protein a day.
“I had to cut a sandwich in half for a meal, or if I ate an egg in the morning, that was one ounce of protein and I had to figure that in,” he said. “They told me a good breakfast would be one egg and one half a pancake, and I ate pretty much that, either that or one egg and two pieces of toast, and that was my breakfast for quite a while.”
But now, he said, he’s off the renal diet and able to enjoy bigger meals.
“I can eat a whole steak and everything now; boy, do I enjoy that,” Charlie said.
As for Bob, he said the effects of the transplant on him are negligible. In fact, most of the time he forgets he’s even missing a kidney.
“It’s so surprising how easy it’s been on me. I don’t even think about having a kidney missing,” Bob said. “I see that scar in the mirror in the morning, but usually, I don’t see it and I don’t think about it. It was that way a month after surgery.”
While Bob may not feel any different after the surgery, Charlie said he’s doing better and is truly grateful for his brother’s generous donation.
“I owe Bob my life,” Charlie said.
By TY THAXTON
Times staff writer