Terry Wingerson was saved by his daughter’s kidney

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Terry Wingerson, of Fort Dodge, at right, poses with his daughter Samantha Reeves, of Thor. Reeves donated a kidney to her dad in November 2015.

Terry Wingerson realized something wasn’t right when he went on a ski trip with his son and couldn’t keep his body warm.

“I went out to see my son in Kellogg, Idaho, to snow ski and I couldn’t stay warm,” Wingerson recalled.

That was in January 2015.

When he returned to Fort Dodge, his doctor found the problem.

“The doc said your creatinine levels are really high,” Wingerson said. “I said they’re always high, and he said, ‘No, they were really high.'”

Wingerson had contracted a virus that damaged his kidneys and eventually led to permanent failure.

He was placed on the national transplant waiting list, but that was a three- to five-year waiting period.

Wingerson’s daughter, Samantha Reeves, of Thor, was not willing to wait that long.

“I quickly realized he did not have three years to wait, so I knew I had to take action,” she said.

Reeves shared the same blood type as her father, Type O, and doctors determined that she was a match.

In August of 2015, Reeves recalled the physical and mental state her father was in.

“I remember going to a doctor’s appointment with him and he was like a shade of gray,” Reeves said. “He matched the shade of gray on chairs he was sitting in. He just couldn’t communicate the same way. It wasn’t my dad.”

At first, Wingerson refused to have his daughter be the donor.

“I told her no for a while,” Wingerson said.

But eventually Reeves and the doctors won out.

“I had simply made up my mind and was going to donate my kidney no matter what,” Reeves said. “I knew what I was doing. I wanted him to get it, but if he wasn’t going to accept it, someone else was going to get it. I knew I had to do something.”

“The doctors convinced me it would be a good idea to accept because I was running out of time,” Wingerson said.

Reeves felt very strongly about helping her father.

“I was always a registered donor on my license,” she said. “I always had a positive aspect of being a donor, however when I noticed how sick my dad was, he was always so full of energy. When he was on dialysis he had no energy, no purpose for life. I really had the motivation to become an organ donor. This was the least I could do for my parents.”

“Sam told me she would donate it to someone else if I didn’t take it, so I thought I just as well take it,” Wingerson said.

Eventually, he was transferred to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines. The surgery was initially scheduled for October, but Wingerson’s health continued to decline. He suffered a broken rib from excessive coughing.

“I was in complete fear that we weren’t even going to make it to donation day,” Reeves said.

Reeves remembers getting the phone call and being told the transplant was postponed.

“I remember being at work and bawling,” she said. “I felt like I let my dad down and my family down because maybe I should have done something more, earlier.”

Wingerson remained on dialysis until the operation.

In November, Wingerson was healthy enough to have the surgery and the transplant was performed.

“The day we went into surgery I was very confident and ready to go,” Reeves said. “I remember waking up in recovery and being in a lot of pain and then being in my room and the tornado sirens went off in November, and they kept having to move me around. I remember them saying they were keeping my dad in recovery.”

Wingerson remembers how he felt too.

“I turned into Superman,” he said. “I had compromised kidneys for 28 years until I realized it. Basically I got a cold. For 28 years I limped along and felt beat up all the time and tired. It was normal for me. So when I got her 20-something-year-old kidney it was a big difference.”

Doctors were surprised at Wingerson’s condition.

“Through the night, the first 24 hours I had a nurse with me and they were blown away at how well I was doing, and the next morning I got out of bed and started walking,” he said.

He walked to his daughter’s room to check on her.

“They put you as far away as they can on the same floor so you get up and walk,” he said. “I tried to talk to her for a few minutes, but she was out of it and in a lot of pain.”

Reeves thought she was prepared for it.

“I had already had two kids,” she said. “So I thought this would be nothing.”

But she wouldn’t hesitate to donate again.

“I would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” Reeves said. “I wish I could grow kidneys. I don’t care about the pain or the scars. The fact I was able to give him a better quality of life was all worth it.”

Wingerson was just happy to get back on the slopes again, which is a family tradition.

“Through all that, I never did miss a ski season,” he said. “It was pretty cool. I went with my brother who survived cancer. We looked at each other and said, ‘Neither one of us should even be here.”