Troy and Heather Dawson made a vow in sickness and in health. But neither imagined Heather would have to give part of herself to save her husband’s life.
Less than two months ago, Heather donated a kidney to Troy, due to complications with diabetes. But it’s not just the Neligh family counting their blessings this Thanksgiving. That’s because as a doctor at Antelope Memorial Hospital, giving the gift of life to Dr. Troy Dawson potentially impacts the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of others in the area.
“A patient said me, ‘Just think of the number of people you are helping by giving him a kidney,’ ” Heather said. “He can treat so many people, and I never really thought of it that way. It’s pretty amazing to think of how many people he’s impacted.”
Growing up in the western Nebraska community of Wallace, it took Troy several years to commit to a career in medicine. After receiving an associates degree in agriculture, Troy worked for the Natural
Although he enjoyed the job, Troy longed for more and returned to college and earned his undergraduate from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Troy then studied pre-med at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, when he completed his residency. And then he moved to Neligh.
“This was my first gig. Now it’s 20 years later,” Troy said with a familiar smile. “The community has been good to us.”
It’s not hard to find the sincerity in Troy’s eyes. He and Heather saw first-hand just why “community” and “blessing” are often used in the same sentence.
Troy was diagnosed as a diabetic shortly after arriving at AMH and has spent the last 18 years on medications with symptoms slowly worsening over time, though neither expected Troy’s health to deteriorate so quickly.
Heather was O Negative. Troy was O Positive. There was no reason to search for a donor; she was a match. But that didn’t stop others from offering. “I had people I barely knew offering me their kidney,” Troy said with a gentle shake of his head.
Around the holidays last year, Troy started noticing changes in his health — movement disorders and weakness, which led to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, a very aggressive form.
The Dawsons sought a second opinion and went to the Mayo Clinic and spent a week meeting with six different neurologists. They were certain it wasn’t Parkinson’s. His symptoms resolved and then returned with worsening kidney function and was filling with fluid.
By June, Troy was on kidney dialysis. Both Heather and Troy agreed they would transplant a kidney before dialysis, but everything happened quickly.
Heather said having a medical background proved huge for Troy’s situation. They were able to complete dialysis at home, starting the 8 1/2-hour treatment every night at 9 p.m. What is typically a six-week training for home dialysis was done in just two afternoons since Heather is an RN.
“We new what we were able to do and could push the process through a little bit faster,” she said. “Sometimes all of that medical knowledge is knowing too much. You play a lot of different scenarios through your mind. It was still scary.”
The Gift Of Life
Once dialysis began, life dramatically changed for the Dawsons. With all of the machines needed, weekends away were next to impossible. Evenings out with friends stopped.
“I felt better on it, but I had no social life,” Troy said. “I had to be in bed by 9 p.m. to get up in time to work in the morning. We couldn’t plan anything for weekends."
Dialysis was a life-changer, and the Dawsons didn’t want to be imprisoned by the disease when they had the answer in their own home — a kidney transplant.
What often takes months to prepare for took a mere weeks for the Dawsons. Again, the medical knowledge helped move them through the steps quickly.
“The told us we were the quickest from evaluation to transplant surgery that they’ve ever had,” Troy said.
On Sept. 26, the couple went into surgery. While Troy was nervous, Heather was confident. It was the right decision, and she had no doubts.
“I had no reservations at all with giving the kidney,” Heather said, matter of factly. “Everything went very smoothly, just like it was meant to be. The past year was rough to say the least, but once he started the dialysis and knew that was what the issue was, there was a sense of relief.”
There was one scary aspect for them both: Having two parents in surgery. Their combined family of four children (Jeremy, 21; Taylor, 21; Grant, 19; Gage, 15) still made them concerned, as it would any parents.
But surgery went well. Heather was out and about quickly and didn’t even miss youngest son Gage’s football game two days later.
“I’ve really felt great since, and you’d never know anything ever happened,” she said. “I never had any pain, so if anyone is considering donating a kidney, I would recommend it. I did not have any side effects.”
Faith & Community Support
Just how well is Troy doing? Thanksgiving will make two weeks exactly since he returned to full-time status at AMH. With a lighter patient load for now, he’s practicing medicine and wearing the same smile around town that so many know.
“God has been watching over us,” Troy said of his health transformation and having a transplant donor beside his side for life.
“Divine intervention,” Heather added.
Faith is the top reason the Dawsons have battled through the last year. A close second is the support of family and friends. Both rattled off texts, cards, flowers, calls, meals among the many blessings counted during the difficult time.
While simple in nature, they were invaluable to the family. The Dawsons don’t take the community support for granted at all. In fact, it serves as a reminder for why they make their home in rural Nebraska when medical professionals are needed everywhere in the state.
“That’s just part of the draw of a small town, and that’s why I want to continue practicing here,” Troy said. “The community support has been amazing.”