Bullskin man awaits life-saving kidney from son
The road of Larry Keefer's life has twisted and turned with challenges.
There are days when Keefer, 41, a professional tractor-trailer driver who resides in Bullskin, must regularly drive to Ohio or eastern Pennsylvania, all while spending his off time undergoing hours of dialysis.
In 1996, Keefer was driving on-the-job along State Route 219 near Punxsutawney the front, driver's side tire of his rig blew out, sending him careening head-on into an oncoming milk truck.
“It (the blowout) just ripped the (steering wheel) out of my hand,” said Keefer, who in the process suffered a kidney contusion.
While being examined at the hospital, doctors discovered an abnormally high level of protein and blood in Keefer's urine.
Soon after, he was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, or Berger's disease.
IgA is a protein that helps the body fight infections, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The disorder occurs when too much of this protein is deposited in the kidneys, causing one's health to worsen over time.
“If your creatine and phosphorous levels are too high, the doctors told me you can have a heart attack,” said Keefer, who is examined regularly by specialists at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Although Keefer's illness was treated by medication for years, his health has continually deteriorated, and in July doctors diagnosed him as one suffering from renal failure — a medical condition in which the kidneys fail to adequately filter waste products from the blood.
“Now I have dialysis done three days a week, four hours at a time,” said Keefer, adding that he undergoes the procedure that performs many of the normal duties of the kidneys at Dialysis Clinic Inc. in Mt. Pleasant.
“And I still pay about $260 a month out-of-pocket for prescriptions. It seems like there are more and more I have to take all the time,” he said.
Doctors told Keefer that a kidney transplant is essential to his life, and Keefer's 24-year-old son, Shawn, is prepared to answer the call.
Shawn Keefer recently underwent tests to determine if he is a donor match to help revive his dad's health.
“He is a positive match. They said we got lucky. For somebody to be a perfect match is odd, but he was a five of five,” Keefer said.
Shawn Keefer said he was told the chances for that were better since he is the son of the transplant candidate.
“The doctor said a living donor, especially a child, would be a match, especially with the same DNA,” Shawn Keefer said.
However, while Keefer's insurance will cover the cost of his operation, it will not cover the cost of the one his son must undergo, he said.
The average kidney transplant costs approximately $250,000, and that's just the beginning, said Emily Joyner, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Transplants, based in Memphis, Tenn.
Even with health insurance, which will cover the cost of the transplant procedure, Keefer still faces significant medical expenses related to the surgery, Joyner said.
“He will need a lifetime of follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications. These medications are very costly, and they're as important to his survival as the transplant itself,” Joyner said.
And, on top of it all, Keefer must keep working.
“I've got bills to pay, a car payment, insurance costs ... there is no other option,” he said.
To help alleviate the financial burden, Keefer and his family recently turned to the National Foundation for Transplants — a nonprofit organization that helps patients raise funds to pay for transplant-related expenses.
“I know (Larry) wants nothing more than to spend many more years with his wife, son and their loved ones,” said Claire Prince, the foundation's fundraising consultant.
On Friday, volunteers are holding a benefit concert at the Youngwood Fire Hall, located at 104 S. 2nd St. in Youngwood, to help the Keefers meet the costs associated with a medical transplant. Entry to the event is $20 per person.
The event begins at 7 p.m. and will feature the Dallas Marks Country Band from 8 to 11 p.m. The evening will also include an auction and free food from Giannili's Homestyle Italian Restaurant and Lounge, located in Carbon. Proceeds will go to the foundation in Keefer's honor to be kept for him to help pay for medical costs post-surgery. For more information, contact family friend and event organizer Tracy Munden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-600-6399.
“We're about (one-third) of the way of where we want to be with ticket sales,” Munden said. “We're hoping we'll get some walk-ins on the night of the concert.”
To make a tax-deductible donation in honor of Keefer, please send a contribution to the NFT Pennsylvania Transplant Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, Tenn. 38119.
Donors are asked to write “in honor of Larry Keefer” on the memo line. Secure donations also can be made online at transplants.org — select “Find an NFT Patient” to locate Keefer.
“At NFT, we're dedicated to helping Larry raise the funds he needs, so he can focus on his health and his family, not the soaring medical bills,” Prince said.
For more information about NFT, please call 800-489-3863 or visit transplants.org.
To read more about Keefer, visit patients.transplants.org/larrykeefer.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or email@example.com.