UTMC Delivers Christmas Miracle for Man in Need of Kidney

April 12, 2023 | News, UToday, UTMC
By Tyrel Linkhorn

Shortly after Mark Kemeter woke up last Christmas morning he said a prayer for someone whose name he didn’t know and whose face he’d never seen.

Kemeter, 67, had just received from them the gift of life — a new kidney.

“It was a very spiritual experience,” he said. “I felt grateful. I prayed and thanked the donor and the donor’s family, and I continue to do that today.”

More than three months after his transplant at The University of Toledo Medical Center, Kemeter is doing well. He’s regaining his strength and, no longer reliant on dialysis to filter his blood, has a renewed sense of freedom.

“My new kidney started working right away and I’ve had zero issues,” he said. “This is how I used to feel years ago, before dialysis. I feel like I can do anything and go anywhere.”

UTMC transplant surgeon Dr. Obi Ekwenna and kidney transplant recipient Mark Kemeter smile for a photo at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

Mark Kemeter, right, with UTMC transplant surgeon Dr. Obi Ekwenna. Kemeter received a life-saving kidney transplant last Christmas at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

Dr. Obi Ekwenna, a transplant and urologic surgeon who performed the procedure, has been thrilled with Kemeter’s recovery.

“Mark is doing fantastic,” Ekwenna said. “He is a miracle in every sense of the word. He’s had a really challenging medical history but he’s such a positive person, despite everything he’s been through.”

Born with extropy of the bladder, a rare disorder in which the abdominal wall that should enclose the bladder doesn’t fully form, Kemeter underwent several major surgeries before his fourth birthday.

Many of his earliest memories are of being in the hospital, and it wasn’t a given, he said, that he’d even survive to adulthood.

He did, but by his early 60s, Kemeter’s doctors told him his kidneys were beginning to deteriorate.

After his kidney function dipped to 10%, he began home hemodialysis and was put on the wait list of a transplant center near his home in Belleville, Mich.

Kemeter expected waiting three to five years for a transplant, devoting at least 25 hours a week to dialysis to keep him alive until a suitable donor could be found.

A counselor at his dialysis clinic suggested he might be able to get transplanted sooner at UTMC, which has one of the fastest adult kidney transplant programs in the country.

On Christmas Eve, just as he was finishing the day’s dialysis and about eight months after he was listed, he got the call that UTMC had a kidney for him.

Though the snowstorm that swept across the Midwest that day delayed the organ’s arrival, pushing the transplant back a few hours, the procedure ultimately began a little before midnight.

Kemeter ended up celebrating Christmas in the recovery room with a new kidney.

“I cannot recommend The University of Toledo Medical Center enough. It wasn’t just the surgical part. It was my recovery, everything,” he said. “UTMC could not have been better for me.”

On average, patients at UTMC spend a little more than four months between being listed and receiving a transplant. Nationally, the median wait time is nearly three years.

“We want to make sure we’re getting the proper kidney for each specific patient. Sometimes that can take a couple extra months, but he’s doing terrific,” Ekwenna said. “He’s off dialysis and pretty much back to normal. He’s an inspiration.”

For Kemeter, the successful transplant provides a chance to get back what he lost in the past few years — traveling, the occasional concert, exercising, even just keeping up his home.

But he also sees his new lease on life as an opportunity to help others.

“God’s got a purpose for me. I don’t know what it is, but I know that I have a lot of gratitude. I feel that and I want to be able to give back,” he said. “That family of the donor, every Christmas they’re going to remember that they lost a loved one and I’ve got this gift. It’s always been called the gift of life. I don’t want to waste it. My main goal is to do what I can to help others.”

Click to access the login or register cheese