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Mitchell woman donating kidney to husband

Gwenda and Terry Koch, of Mitchell, visit with a customer Thursday at Cornerstone Coffee House & Deli. Terry needs a kidney and Gwenda has been deemed a match for him. The transplant will take place in a few weeks. (Anna Jauhola/Republic)

Terry Koch had one of his good days Thursday after kidney dialysis.

He was at Cornerstone Coffee House & Deli with a smile on his face and a happy heart.

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Around noon Thursday, Terry and Gwenda Koch received good news -- their teams of doctors gave the go-ahead to reschedule surgery for Gwenda to give Terry one of her kidneys.

"It's probably the most important thing I'll ever do," Gwenda said, choking up as she smiled at Terry.

The two have been married for 45 years. For 15 of those, the couple have called Mitchell home. After retiring from Dakota Wesleyan University five years ago, they found retired life didn't suit them. They have co-owned Cornerstone for four years.

Terry's kidney trouble began about 20 years ago when one of his kidneys was lacerated in an accident. Ten years ago, he had his other kidney removed when doctors found a tennis ball-sized tumor in it.

Since then, his doctors have kept a close watch on his kidney's function. About six months ago, his creatine levels dropped dramatically to below 20 percent.

He was quickly put on the transplant list and it only took one month for Gwenda to be confirmed as a donor.

"Once he was qualified as a recipient, then they could begin testing," she said. "I noted I was O-positive so I said I wanted to be tested."

She ended up being a match and they began to prepare for the transplant.

They were scheduled at the end of February, but a PET scan showed a spot on Terry's spine. Because he'd had cancer already, doctors were worried the spot could be an obstacle.

Around noon Thursday, the couple found out the spot was nothing and the rescheduling process began.

"Terry has a surgeon, I have a surgeon and the kidney has a surgeon," Gwenda said.

Terry's and the kidney's surgeon are ready, but the scheduling will revolve around Gwenda's surgeon, she said. They're hopeful the surgery will take place in a few weeks.

The Kochs say they're not scared.

"They've been doing this surgery for 20 years," Terry said. "Everybody I've talked to said it's gone well."

Gwenda noted a friend of hers who gave a kidney 17 years ago had to have a rib removed and cut open from the back. Gwenda will have laparoscopic surgery to remove her left kidney, which is less invasive.

Terry's remaining kidney will not be removed. Instead, Gwenda's kidney will be placed below Terry's bladder to avoid doing surgery around the other organs and muscles.

Terry said he has his good days and bad, but overall, he's not worried about the surgery. He said the dialysis three times a week has slowed him down a lot and he's ready to be more active again.

"They tell me I'll just feel so much better," Terry said.

The surgery will take place at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls. The couple will stay at Walsh Family Village, a facility for family or patients to stay while being treated at the hospital, for six weeks. Terry will have daily checkups to, among other things, make sure the anti-rejection medicine is working.

Since Gwenda is a living donor, she said the odds of Terry's transplant working are increased. He'll get a more healthy and vibrant organ, and the odds of rejection will decrease.

The typical person on dialysis can wait four to five years for a transplant. Terry has only waited six months, Gwenda said.

"If more people were aware of being living donors, it could decrease the numbers on transplant lists dramatically," she said.

Each year, 100,000 people are on waiting lists for kidney transplants. Three-fourths of those are eligible for transplants and 1,500 of them are children. Only 25,000 or 26,000 transplants are completed each year, Gwenda added. Of those, 21,000 are from deceased donors. She encourages anyone who is willing to become a living donor for kidney transplants.

"It's just a really good feeling," Gwenda said of giving a kidney to her husband. "There's no fear with it. It just feels good."