Ann and Joe Rozich are more of a match than either would have ever thought. Despite Joe’s rare blood type

Joe and Anne a perfect match

Joe had been diagnosed with Hypertension and Chronic Kidney Failure

Joe Rozich was getting older, there was no arguing that.

And sure, there were the increasingly frequent trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and some occasional tingling in his feet and legs, but he still golfed four times a week, was active with his grandchildren, he played in a weekly pool league, and he was enjoying his early retirement.

His annual checkups with the doctor had always come back clean.

In November, 2006, however, Rozich and his wife Ann were getting ready to head south for a winter vacation when their doctor called. They told him they were leaving for their vacation the next day, and he told them, if that was the case, they’d better come see him first thing in the morning. Two days later they were certainly headed south, but instead of a vacation, they were on their way to Victoria to see a kidney specialist.

Joe had been diagnosed with Hypertension and Chronic Kidney Failure.

There is no cure for this condition.

The specialist they saw in Victoria discussed options with them, including the change that would be required in Joe’s diet, and the two types of dialysis that would be needed to keep Joe’s kidney’s filtering out the waste from his system, keeping him alive. While Joe began to lose weight, Ann started putting it on.

“All the processed white-bread foods that were good for him, were bad for me,” Ann says. “We were a couple, so when he had toast, I did too.”

They did their research, and thought they knew everything there was to know about kidney failure. They were wrong.

Fortunately, they had a lifeline in the Kidney Clinic at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

“The dieticians, the social workers, the nurses, everyone there helped us,” Ann says. “They returned our calls when we had questions and offered advice and answers to questions others had asked before us. A terrific group of people.”

Without a kidney transplant, Joe would have been on dialysis to clean his blood every day for the rest of his life, as is the case with kidney failure. That life would have also been much, much shorter, and the quality of it would have been severely diminished.

The wait list for a kidney, however, is long, and once you’re at the top of it, you still need a matching one to show up. While you wait, you hope things go well and you can keep yourself in a physical condition that will facilitate a transplant once it’s available.

Ann, meanwhile, “came face to face with a roller coaster of emotions, tears of anger as well as joy,” as well as “a feeling of self worth that almost took my breath away,” when she realized she could save Joe, her children’s father, her husband.

She’d decided he could have one of her kidneys.

“I’m not special, or young, but I am healthy,” she thought. “I’m an everyday ordinary female, wife, mother and grandmother who could live well with only one kidney, as many people do.” So she asked the specialist to test her to see if she was a match. “Joe has a rare blood type and we were told that the odds could be thousands to one that we would match. But I listened to my heart and knew we would be.”

Sure enough….

On Monday, March 31, 2008, a year and a half after the diagnosis, Ann and Joe walked arm in arm into the surgical department of St. Paul’s Hospital. Ann went into surgery at 7:50, and Joe followed at 12:30.

“I heard afterward from Dr. (William) Gourlay (who performed the transplant) that almost as soon as he put my kidney into Joe it started working.”

Their next days were filled, according to Ann, with “self-administered pain control, walking the halls and regaining strength.” They were released late Friday afternoon that week.

Joe and Ann look at life a bit differently these days. Six years ago their viewpoint shifted, and they have a newfound appreciation for everything and everyone around them.

“(Our daughters) Jenni and Stasia have continued to ‘monitor’ their Dad’s eating habits and exercising and are always quizzing their Dad about his medications. I look at (our daughters) a little differently now,” Ann says, “with a new admiration for the nurturing women they are. For a brief moment in our time, our roles were reversed. They became the parents and we the children.”

Joe is back to golf, they are back to gallivanting all over the world, and are physically active with no health issues to speak of. Ann says that she needs to tell people about the “Live Donor” experience. “A few days of discomfort and several weeks of recovery is the price I paid to extend the years and quality of life of another,” she says. “It was a privilege to be able to do this. A very small price to pay for a huge reward, I think.”

If you or someone you know wants more information about kidney disease, failure, dialysis, or how you can help, go online to kidney.ca, or stop by the Campbell River Kidney Walk Sunday, Sept. 28, beginning at Frank James Park at 10 a.m.