A Yellow Springs man’s quest for a kidney
- Published: May 26, 2016
David Spyridon’s nights are spent in a recliner. Sleep comes a little harder that way, but the position aids the work of his dialysis machine. Five times during the night, between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., the machine pumps a sugar solution into his peritoneum, or abdominal cavity lining, through a catheter in his belly. And five times nightly the machine drains the solution away, carrying with it waste products filtered from his blood.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Spyridon said last week at his home on Route 370, a quiet spot just before the entrance to John Bryan State Park. “You don’t even really feel it.”
Yet those nights in the recliner keep him alive. Spyridon, a longtime resident of Yellow Springs and husband of former school board member Angela Wright, has kidney failure. He’s been on dialysis since October, 2008, almost eight years. Average life expectancy on dialysis is five to 10 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation, though some dialysis patients live much longer. The procedure loses effectiveness over time, and it’s hard on the body, Spyridon explained. His doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center have told him he needs something more.
“I’ve been thinking, ‘This isn’t so bad,’” he said. “But I didn’t realize you can’t keep doing it.”
The 66-year-old lost Wright, his wife of 20 years, to cancer last summer. The blow was so hard, he said. But he still hopes to live out many more years of life.
To do that, Spyridon needs a kidney.
The human body has two kidneys, and so a kidney donation can be made by a living donor. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the procedure can be done laparoscopically, with minimal incisions. Donors spend a few days in the hospital, and may take up to six weeks to fully recover. The remaining kidney increases in size to compensate for the loss, and the body functions normally. Studies have shown that kidney donors live normal life spans. Organ donation is a “good Samaritan” procedure; by law, financial compensation is prohibited. Donation of a kidney is thus a great act of altruism.
For the recipient, a living donation confers major advantages. Lifespan is one. Spyridon’s doctors have told him that a living kidney could last 15 to 20 years, while a kidney from a deceased donor (a so-called “cadaver kidney”) may offer him just five to seven years of life. Another advantage is time. If a kidney patient can find someone willing to donate, and that person passes the screening and proves compatible, the kidney transplant can go ahead. By contrast, the median wait time for a cadaver kidney is three-and-a-half years, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Spyridon’s doctors are recommending a living donation.
“I’m like, well, how do I do this? How do I ask for a kidney?” Spyridon recalled asking them.
“They said, ‘There are people out there who will donate.’” One patient, a trucker, hung a sign on his truck as he drove across country. People responded. The latest figures from the National Kidney Foundation show that there were 5,538 living kidney donors in the U.S. in 2014.
Wife, friend sought to donate
Spyridon nearly had a donor twice over. The first time was in 2008, when Spyridon, then a commercial airline pilot and the owner of a music production company, was first told his kidneys were failing. A kidney transplant is usually a better option than dialysis — if a suitable donor is immediately available. His wife was at his side, and she spoke up.
“I’ll get tested,” she said.
Spyridon said he’d wait for a cadaver kidney, but she replied, “No, I’ll do this.” So Wright was tested for compatibility.
“She was an exact match,” Spyridon recalled, tears in his eyes. “We thought we had this nailed.”
But he needed to lose weight before the operation, and a year later, as he was still working to shed pounds, Wright was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her diagnosis was doubly tragic; not only was she gravely ill, but she also no longer qualified as an organ donor.
For the next several years, Wright, a medical doctor, battled cancer and kept Spyridon “on track” with his dialysis. Their life, though overshadowed, went on. He could no longer fly, but he continued his music production business, Greene Glen Productions, located on the couple’s property. Wright remained an active member of the school board. They took care of their home and gardens, their dog. They assisted Wright’s sister, Maria Wright, who lives in a second home on the property.
“We had a great marriage,” Spyridon said. “She was a great lady. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
And when Wright became very sick, Spyridon cared for her constantly. One day, after Wright’s death, a local resident who had gardened for the couple and had become a friend showed up at Spyridon’s door.
“I saw the way you took care of your wife when she had cancer,” Spyridon recalled the friend saying. Then: “I want to donate a kidney.”
Spyridon was floored. “I don’t know what to say,” he replied. “You don’t have to say anything,” the friend said. “This is something I want to do.”
But this donor prospect, too, fell through. Spyridon’s doctors ruled the friend out as a donor due to potential health complications. “That was such a let down,” Spyridon said, choking up.
‘I know you’re out there’
The disappointment led him to his current course. Bearing in mind his doctors’ story about a trucker’s cross-country appeal to strangers, Spyridon recently printed up a flyer describing his need for a living kidney donation. He has begun distributing it to area churches, starting with his home church, Saint Luke in Beavercreek, which he attended as a child.
“I know God has someone out there who is willing to give of themselves and donate one of their kidneys,” the flyer reads in part.
Religious faith has become more important to him in recent years, he said. Both he and Wright returned to the Catholicism of their youth as a way of dealing with their illnesses. They joined Saint Luke, but were able to attend together only once. After Wright’s death, Spyridon said he prayed and prayed “for the grief to lift.” Only when it eased a bit was he able to pray in earnest for a kidney donor.
“Now that Angela’s gone, I’ve still got a life going here,” he realized.
Spyridon hopes to fly again. He hopes to spend many more days driving his Corvette and motor scooter. “I’m sort of a motorhead,” he said, a little sheepishly. “I like things that go fast.” He hopes to continue as a ham radio operator. He’s held a license for over 25 years — call sign N8MCV, “November 8 Mike Charlie Victor.” And he hopes to continue making and producing music.
Music is his first love, he said. Growing up in Beavercreek, he thought he would be a dentist like his father. But music pulled him in other directions.
“When you’ve got that kind of passion toward music, nothing else seems to matter,” he said.
He started playing gigs when he was 13. Later, in the 1980s, he played electric bass in jazz-funk group ‘Bout Time, whose members included musicians Bill Cunliffe, Paul Evoskevich and Carmon DeLeone, all of whom went on to national renown. When the band broke up after seven years, Spyridon turned to his second love, flying. He flew professionally for over 20 years; at the end of his career, he was flying 50- to 90-seat regional jets for a division of US Air.
But he never left music behind. With his wife’s support, he built a music studio and started Greene Glen Productions, which he ran with musician Randy Villars. The move into music production was fortuitous; once Spyridon went on dialysis, he could no longer do nighttime gigs, but he could continue working with Villars and other musicians at the studio.
“I couldn’t go out to play music, but I could bring musicians to me” through the business, Spyridon said.
With his wife’s death and a new urgency around his own health, Spyridon’s life is changing. He recently sold his music production equipment. And he is currently selling the home where he and Wright lived together for 20 years. Maria Wright, his sister-in-law, will be moving in with her brother in Maryland. Spyridon will be moving to a new home in a subdivision near Caesar Creek Park in Waynesville. He expects to leave Yellow Springs in July. The departure, he said, is “bittersweet.”
“I love this area,” he said. “Angela and I explored every nook and cranny. But Angela was such a part of this community that everywhere I go, I see her. There are so many memories.” He paused, his voice breaking. “I need a change of venue.”
Their dog, Lucy, a four-year-old black Labrador retriever, will come with him, as will the Corvette, his ham radio equipment and other beloved possessions. Many, many memories will follow him to the new home, he knows.
But the move is undertaken in hope. And it’s hope that animates his quest for a kidney donor. On his flyer, he writes, “I know you’re out there. I look forward with great anticipation as the Lord stirs the heart of that special person who is willing to extend themselves and save my life.”
After all, he said last week, sitting near the recliner where he’s spent eight years of nights, “I’ve got a lot of living to do.”
To learn more, contact David Spyridon at 937-313-3611 or Taylor Lacey at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center at 513-584-1829.