The year 1998 was the beginning of a remarkable transformation for my family. My father, Jim Dineen, the always healthy, weightlifting, never-missed-a-day-of-work kind of dad, discovered he had kidney disease. He was 52, and had no symptoms. We don’t really know how he got it — he even guessed that exposure to Agent Orange when he was in Vietnam could have been a factor — and the road to recovery has been long. But in November 2003, my father received a healthy kidney at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, where my parents live. My mom, Joyce, a year his junior, was his donor. After years of marital ups and downs, multiple surgeries for complications of the disease, and financial challenges by the dozens, our family dynamic changed for all of us in ways we never could have expected.
It was my dad’s disease that began to change things. In the beginning of his illness, he went through hell. In 1999, his electrolytes plummeted so low as a result of diuretics he was taking that he passed out and fell in the bathtub, fracturing both elbows and several ribs and suffering a concussion. He had been put on the steroid prednisone, and initially gained 40 pounds of fluid and almost lived in the bathroom.
Dad was self-conscious about his appearance, waiting until night to go out for groceries, and even then using the drive-through lane. The only time he really appeared in public in two years was at a wedding. Dad wanted to be there so much that he was willing to risk ridicule. (The only clothes he had at home that would fit on his swollen body were a gray sweat suit and slippers.) I don’t know where he found the strength to go on.