McDONALD - Jeff and Angie Joseph celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this spring and a few days after marking that special day they learned that their marriage was indeed an ideal match in a very rare way. Angie Joseph learned she was able to donate one of her kidneys to her husband.
The Josephs of McDonald will have surgery Monday at the Cleveland Clinic as Angie donates a kidney to help Jeff, whose kidneys have been failing since he suffered a stroke in September 2010 at the age of 48.
Jeff said he remembers not feeling well on Sept. 9, 2010, so he went to the doctor, who put him in the hospital to be observed for neurological changes. While at the hospital, he suffered a stroke.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Bob Coupland
Angie and Jeff Joseph of McDonald relax on their patio with their miniature Italian greyhound, Bella. The Josephs both will have surgery on Monday when Angie donates one of her kidneys to Jeff, whose kidneys are failing after a stroke in September 2010. It is unusual for a wife to be perfect donor match for her husband, but tests showed Angie’s kidney would work. BELOW:?The Josephs look over paperwork at their home.
"It could have been a lot worse had he not already been in the hospital when all of this happened," Angie said.
After four weeks in the hospital, Jeff was released and was doing well recovering with physical therapy up until November 2012, when he had pneumonia. His blood pressure went up, which affected his kidneys, which began to fail.
He learned he needed a kidney transplant. Jeff currently has only 12 percent of his kidneys functioning.
You can help
A fund, "Jeff's Cause," has been set up for Jeff Joseph, and contributions may be made at any Home Savings and Loan Bank Branch.
Jeff, who works at the Cadle Company in Newton Falls, has not been able to work since 2010. He said he can't stand for long periods of time because his blood pressure drops.
"Because of his kidneys, he is having trouble regulating his blood pressure," Angie said. "If he wants to get to a chair, he can't dilly dally to get there or his pressure drops."
Jeff first went to the Cleveland Clinic in February to see if he could qualify for the donor transplant list. He was deemed healthy enough to undergo transplant surgery and was placed on the list.
Angie a wait on the transplant list to get a kidney from someone who died could be two to three years or longer.
"I did not want Jeff to wait that long," Angie said. "I have seen what he goes through three times a week at dialysis. It just takes a toll on his body. He is there four or more hours a day three days a week. It's like a constant flushing of toxins."
Seeing how the dialysis treatments affected her husband, Angie made a choice.
"I wanted to get tested," Angie said. "I was told it was very rare for a spouse to be a match because usually the better chance of a match is with a sibling or a blood relative. There is a higher chance of matching with a relative."
Angie suspected it would be a slim chance.
Angie said after Jeff got on the list, she went and got tested. Jeff was also placed on a list at a Pittsburgh hospital as a backup. Not long after the couple celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on March 26, Angie learned that she was a match.
Jeff said he was very surprised when he learned his wife was a match.
"I thought she was kidding and was in complete shock when she said I could have the operation sooner," Jeff said.
To determine compatibility, Angie underwent blood testing and cross matching. The two have the same blood type.
"I was in shock myself because it is pretty rare for a spouse to be a ideal donor match," she said.
Jeff said before he got sick he was able to attend the many sporting events their daughters, Katie and Sarah, were involved with. Katie is a college student at Gannon University. Sarah is a student at McDonald High School.
"I want him to have this surgery as soon as possible so he could start feeling good and we can start going places together," Angie said. "Right now, he stays at home because he can't go to too many places because he can't afford to get sick.
"Since he got sick he missed seeing Katie swim all this year. He had never before missed any of her events," Angie said.
Jeff said he was able to make few home basketball games Sarah played in.
"We would sit down at the bottom away from everyone," Angie said. "Those were days he was up to (it). On days he has dialysis, he is not up to doing this."
She said she is concerned how tired Jeff gets from the dialysis and is glad the surgery is July 1.
Angie said she will be at the hospital for two to four days and Jeff a week if all goes well.
"Jeff stays longer because he is getting the kidney, and they need to make sure it doesn't get rejected," Angie said. "He will leave the hospital on anti-rejection medications which can be hard on the body until it gets used to them."
Jeff will take the anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life and cost $4,000 per month, with insurance covering much of it. He will also have to make frequent visits to the Cleveland Clinic to be checked for the next few years.
"They will keep an eye on him to make sure his kidneys are functioning and regulating his medications," Angie said.
Local groups and organizations have spent the past months holding fundraising events to help the family with costs not covered by insurance. Events have included a pancake breakfast and quarter auction. She said neighbors brought the family food, cut the lawn, and help where needed. A golf outing is in the works.
"We can't thank the community enough for everything they did. The response we have received from people is unbelievable. There was not one person on my Facebook page who didn't want to help with fundraising. They came up with different ideas," Angie said.
"We thank them and ask them for prayers for Monday morning," Jeff said.
Angie said she remembers many strangers, co-workers and people in the village coming up to them when they heard Jeff needed a kidney saying they wanted to be tested to see if they could help.
Diane Fossacecca, a friend of the Josephs, said when she and others heard about Jeff they wanted to help the family. She and others organized the pancake breakfast held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.
The Josephs said the students at Roosevelt Elementary School had a contest with each class collecting quarters . The school raised $1,500 in quarters.
Angie said McDonald High School students had a Technical Day in which they were allowed to bring cell phones, iPads and iPhones to school if they paid $2. The students raised more than $600.
The Josephs are also grateful to their employers. Jeff said the Cadle Company has been very helpful to the family. Angie works at St. Elizabeth Health Center and said her employers have also been very helpful to her allowing her time to take Jeff to dialysis.
The Josephs also thank their daughters for all they do to help. Sarah has taken on many responsibilities and Katie helps when she is home from college.
"We have a lot of life to spend together," Angie said. "We are getting through this and feel very blessed."