John’s Story

My name is John Petrick. I have an inherited disease called polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. The gene associated with PKD is dominant, so if one of your parents has the disease, you have a 50% chance of contracting it yourself.

The disease causes cysts to form on your kidneys (as well as other organs). Eventually the cysts become so large that the kidneys can’t function properly, and ultimately fail. With PKD, the loss of kidney function can be a very slow process, and most people with PKD have kidney failure in their fifties or sixties.

My diagnosis came when I was in my forties, as a result of poor family medical history. In 2003, when I was age 53, it was clear that my kidneys would not function much longer. When I told friends and family about this, five people asked to be tested as possible donors. I was overwhelmed that so many were willing to do this for me.

First, though, I had to be screened to make sure I was a candidate for a transplant, a process requiring many tests. One was a stress test that uncovered a partial blockage of a heart artery—the one called the “widow maker” because blockages there so often go undetected. If my kidneys had not been failing, that blockage might never have been found. I had a stent put in and was approved for the transplant.

Once I was approved, my donor—good friend and business partner Larry Becker—went through as many tests as I had to ensure that he could safely donate. Everything was approved, and on August 17, 2004, I received my “new” kidney.

With chronic kidney disease and kidney failure, you become more and more tired. After the transplant, my energy returned and I started doing activities that I had not thought possible. I began riding my bike again and also started to swim regularly. I competed in five or six sprint triathlons each year starting in 2007. In 2008, I started attending the USA Transplant Games as well as the World Transplant Games, competing in bowling, cycling, swimming, the triathlon, lawn bowling, golf, and several track and field events. I’ve met many people from all over the world who have had successful transplants.

After my own, I discovered that my grandfather had died from PKD at age 56. My mother had it, too, but her kidneys were still able to function until her death at age 81 (in 2008). I have been very fortunate that medical advances during my lifetime have allowed me to receive a transplant and continue to lead a normal life. Since my transplant, I have traveled to places too numerous to mention. I have seen my daughter marry, my son graduate from high school and college, and my daughter give birth to twin girls. My son’s marriage takes place later this year.

I know I have been very lucky. My sister also had PKD, and her kidneys lasted about 10 years longer than mine. On October 1, 2013, she received a kidney from our cousin. All went well for three weeks, until she got an infection and died five days later. So I know firsthand that transplantation can’t always solve the problem. More research needs to be done on PKD and all the other conditions that affect the kidneys. Because of genetic testing, I know that my daughter and both of my granddaughters have PKD, so it is personally very important to me to find ways to treat PKD, so that kidney failure does not occur.

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