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Bushman's son determined to give one for team

Don Bushman could have been on the kidney transplant waiting list for years, waiting to end his constant struggle with complete kidney failure.

But his son Donnie was determined to improve his father's odds.

The Bushmans are part of the Paired Kidney Donation program — also known as the "buddy system."

According to Bill Morris, director of transplant services for Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, the program matches two pairs of people.

Each pair includes a kidney patient and a healthy "buddy" who is willing to donate a kidney, but isn't a match for his or her own loved one. They are matched via database with another pair of people in the same circumstance and whose kidney donor and recipient match with them.

It may sound like a long shot but the buddy system expedites the process of getting a new kidney, according to the Harmar-based Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE). CORE manages organ donations for 155 hospitals in parts of three states.

"I could wait for a kidney for only months now, instead of years," Don Bushman said.

Bushman, 72, is well-known as one of the founders and coaches of the Highlands Hornets Youth Football Organization. He's an assistant basketball coach at Highlands High School and a retired Harrison Public Works superintendent.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, about 105,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant in the United States.

No one in Bushman's family was a match to donate, which is why he had to go on the waiting list.

"He said, 'I'm doing this, and I don't want to hear another thing about it,' " Bushman said of his youngest son's decision to donate a kidney on his behalf.

Donnie Bushman, 46, of Harrison said he didn't have to think twice about giving up a kidney for his dad.

"I only need one to live, and if I can help him live a normal life, it's a no-brainer," he said. "He's my father. I'd do anything to help him."

The foundation says that "living donations" — kidneys taken from a live donor — are more advantageous than organs taken from a recently deceased person, because a kidney from a live donor functions right away. That makes its activity easier to monitor.

The son is not worried about the procedure.

"I can't wait for it to happen," he said. "I hope we get the call (that a match has been found) tomorrow."

According to Morris, a donor must clear many hurdles to be enrolled in the buddy system.

"Donors must go through rigorous physical and mental testing before they're allowed to be on the list," he said. "We want to make sure that everyone is a willing participant."

Morris said that once a match is found, the procedures will be done simultaneously.

"We don't want anyone to get cold feet," he said.

Sudden onset

Bushman went to bed one night feeling normal, and the next morning he could barely move.

"The next thing I know, I'm in the ICU," he said.

Bushman lost complete function of his kidneys from what doctors told him were complications from diabetes.

So for nearly two years, Bushman has undergone kidney dialysis three times a week.

He admits that the days on which he must undergo the procedure are exhausting but he is quick to point out that it could be worse.

"I'm lucky that my only problems are kidney failure," he said. "Other people have bigger problems."

The struggle with his kidneys hasn't deterred him from coaching.

"I've been doing it for over 50 years," he said. "I'm not going to stop now."

Fundraiser planned

A spaghetti dinner is planned in Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Harrison on Sunday.

All proceeds will go to helping pay Bushman's medical bills, according to Kerry Ekas, who planned the event.

Ekas said Bushman has meant a lot to him as well as the community.

"He coached me when I was a kid, and now he coaches my son," he said. "He's a great man, and I'm glad I could help."

Bushman said he feels a little uncomfortable with the event.

"My wife and I never ask for anything," he said. "I never expected this."

He said that while he has insurance, other costs can take their toll.

"Co-pays and parking in Pittsburgh (when visiting doctors) can really add up," he said.

The younger Bushman summed up his feelings about his dad.

"He's been a great father to me and an even better friend," he said. "My best friend."

Additional Information:

If you go

What: Spaghetti dinner for Don Bushman

When: Noon-5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church social hall, Natrona Heights, Harrison

Cost: $7.

Details: Ticket includes spaghetti, salad, breadsticks, a drink and a chance to win two Steelers tickets for a game this season. Steeler play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove will attend the dinner from noon to 2 p.m.

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