RON & PAUL HELFRICH'S
July 16, 2004
JULY - 2011
The kidney shaped pin that
Lifelink presented to Paul for his
saving gift to Ron
1965 - Ron and Paul with Les and Bill in
|RON AND PAUL HELFRICH'S ODYSSEY
In those years, Ron had many major crises, and was
given up on by the doctors on at least three occasions, but he pulled
through. The doctors said over and over they had never had a
patient to live through as much as he has. After many episodes,
his heart surgeon said that Ron could not survive a second kidney
transplant. But, after that, Ron survived a two week episode of
dying. The heart surgeon came in a few days later, held Ron's hand
and said "anyone who can go through what you just did, and survive,
should have a second shot at a kidney transplant, so I will recommend
that you be put back on the transplant list." Ron had so many
antigens in his body from the first kidney transplant and other
complications that he only had a 15% chance of getting a second cadaver
Ron, on the left, is where this story begins. This journey of two brothers began with Ron and Paul Helfrich, born 1958
& 1959, respectively, in the same hospital at Whiteman AFB, MO and,
being a part of a military family, traveling to Michigan, Philippines,
Hawaii, and Florida. Ron and Paul have two older brothers, Bill
& Les, who were fortunate enough to see some of Germany before Ron
and Paul were born. They all shared much over the years; baseball,
scouting, schools, friendships, being in each other's weddings, each
having children, and feeling blessed many times over.
With their dad being in the air force, Bill joined the navy, Les
the army, and Paul the marines. The goal: have a poignant picture of
all five in the different branches of service. It was not meant to
be. When Ron went to join the coast guard in 1979, they
discovered his kidneys were failing. No one in the family matched
as a donor, so Ron was on dialysis for five years. Ron's family
members were tested and were not good candidates to donate a
kidney. Les later heard of a program where he was
willing to go see a doctor out west to see about taking part
of one of his kidneys in the possible future study where they
may be able to grow a kidney from a partial one, but that
has not materialized. In 1983, Ron
was fortunate to receive a cadaver kidney, which lasted for 16
Throughout all of this, everyone said "keep the
faith, there is always hope, and that there was always someone much
worse off or who had no hope at all." I kept a constantly
updated running chronology of the major events in Ron's medical history
in my purse at all times, showing that to date, he had gone through 52
major incidents since 1979. To read a copy of Ron's
medical record would overpower anyone who would take the time to read
all of it. As Ron's condition worsened, the doctors said that Ron
was "wasting away" and with the rapidly deteriorating
situation, it was time to "bring in the marines!"
Paul at this point. Paul had been tested in 1979 as a possible
donor and passed all of the tests until they gave Ron a blood
transfusion from Paul and Ron's body rejected it. That
eliminated Paul as a donor at that time. Paul never
wavered in his desire to donate. Since then, an
experimental program appeared on the horizon, which changed that
issue. LifeLink Transplant Center
offered Ron and Paul a chance to participate in this experimental program. They
both eagerly agreed to be only the eighth participants in this experimental program
in this region. Ron had six plasmapheresis treatments and six cytogams.
The hope was that in replacing plasma with albumin, that it would lower
Ron's antibodies, which would have attacked a second transplanted kidney, and
thereby permit Ron's body to accept Paul's kidney.
and his wife, Ellen, and the entire family supported Paul in this quest, even
though everyone had concerns for both Ron and Paul, especially with this being
experimental. Paul's wife, Ellen, had complete support from her parents;
her dad, Frank, came to sit through the day and night with us and Ellen's
mom, Ann, stayed home to take care of Paul and Ellen's children. They came
all the way up from Sarasota to do this, so the family support is quite
Ron's wife, Elise, called Paul the night before the surgery
in an attempt to thank Paul for this precious gift. Elise could not get
through all that she was trying to say to Paul, and finally had to hang up
because she was so choked up with emotion. She said there was so much more
that she wanted to say to Paul.
July 16, 2004, Ron and Paul entered
Tampa General Hospital. When Dr. Charles Sanders came into the
room just before they were to go to surgery I said to Dr. Sanders, "this
is a great day for the Helfrich Family," to which Dr. Sanders replied, "it
is, indeed, a very great day for the Helfrich Family." Then, Paul donated a kidney to Ron. The
kidney began to work immediately. Paul did marvelously well, and
it appeared that his jogging every other day for three miles prior to
the surgery was contributory to such a rapid recovery for Paul.
However, Ron had been through so much that he was in a rather
compromised condition to begin with. We had started out early in
the morning, and Paul was brought back to his room about 4:00 p.m. and
Ron did not get back to his room until close to midnight.
Complications arose within two hours for Ron, and they had to call the
surgeon back in at 2:00 a.m. STAT! They could not get the bleeding
to stop and he was losing blood faster than they could give him
transfusions. There were six-seven people in the room working with him,
leaving us all drained watching everything, as they said "get the O.R.
ready STAT!" So, Ron was back in surgery, and then in ICU.
But, Ron is well on the road to a normal life as of this writing which
is August 2, 2004.
LifeLink presented Paul
with a beautiful certificate and kidney shaped pin. The LifeLink representative said that Paul was an exceptional individual for doing what he did, because most people have one reason or another for not stepping forward as he did.
Transplant Center Coordinator, Lois, said that the "Helfrich Guys"
were the talk of LifeLink, with the staff walking each step along the way in
this program with them. To say that Paul did something so much above and
beyond what most would do is such an understatement. How incredibly proud
we all are of him for giving such a selfless and priceless gift. Paul has said
over and over "it was never up for question, I could not NOT do it." He
says he does not feel that he did anything all that special. However, Paul is now known to the entire
|Paul just can't be praised enough
for what he has done. He and Ron have always been close, with both of
them living in Tampa, one brother in Alaska and one in Virginia.
Paul has gone above and beyond with this gift of life to Ron.
Since Paul was a marine, it looks as if he has lived up to their motto
of “never leave a buddy behind.” Everyone should have a brother
Ron, how brave you have been with what you have
gone through all of these years. What courageous young men you both are.
You must know how proud we are of both of you, and how much we
love you. We have so much to be thankful for, and especially for
having two sons like these two guys.
This background is a beautiful sunrise signifying a new day dawning for
Ron, thanks to Paul, and what more can we say about the background music
"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother?" That speaks for itself.
Here are some pictures of Ron and Paul below.
Lots of love to both of you,
Mom & Dad
The entire Helfrich family wishes to
express our gratitude to LifeLink Transplant Center for the grant that
made this possible and all of the staff's support. It meant so
much to all of us. The doctors, surgeons, nursing staff - all were
appreciated so much during this period. As Paul said, they do some
miraculous things at TGH. This new program is, hopefully, a
tremendous stride forward for many future patients like Ron. Most
importantly, one must always try to maintain that there is hope.
Ron has proven that is true.