Amy Jo Kinyon
The County Journal
A simple bandage on the arm of Monty Lee Gemalsky led to the saving of his life. A resident of Eaton Rapids, Gemalsky works for the Board of Water and Light and was at a job site when Matthew Prather of Potterville noticed the wrapping. Prather asked a co-worker if Gemalsky donated blood. The story behind the bandage, however, was more complicated than a donation. Gemalsky has polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and had been undergoing dialysis treatments for a year when Prather took note of his arm. That one bandage sent Prather on a journey of research and investigation to find out about PKD. Both men describe what happened next as coming from a higher power.
“A month before I first texted him I researched for myself, prayed about it and it came to my heart that I needed to help this man,” explained Prather.
More than just help, Prather gave part of himself to a complete stranger. When he first received that text from Prather, asking how to begin the tests to see if he would be able to donate a kidney, Gemalsky said he experienced a variety of emotions.
“What can you say? There was shock, excitement and happy, happy, happy,” described the 51-year-old. “This is a total stranger who, out of the goodness of his heart is even checking it out to see if it’s possible.”
Just six months after the two exchanged their first messages, the duo was taken into surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. When the surgery was complete, each man had one fully functioning kidney. For Prather, the procedure resulted in diet changes and a few complications during recovery. For Gemalsky, the gaining of a kidney meant life and he began to feel the positive effects of his new kidney almost immediately.
“This guy gave me 15 hours a week back that I was spending in dialysis and at least 25 years,” Gemalsky said with a hitch in his voice. PKD is a genetic disease that affects thousands in America and millions worldwide. His grandfather, mother and brother have all passed away due to the disease or complications resulting from PKD and his sister received a transplant eight years ago.
“My brother was on dialysis nine and a half years. I thought I was going to be on it for at least nine and a half years,” said Gemalsky.
Now, the men are on a mission to educate others about organ donation and how everyday people can save a life.
“I’m your average person,” said Prather. “I don’t have a million dollars in my pocket. . . All it takes is your time and the effort to want to do it.”
All costs associated with the donation of an organ are turned over to the recipient’s insurance, clearing the path for almost anyone to be able to give the gift of life. Annual check-ups and any other medical issues due to the surgery are also covered for the life of the donor.
Through the multiple road trips to Ann Arbor, the duo has developed a close friendship, one that will continue for years. They have dubbed themselves blood brothers and their fondness for each other is evident in their camaraderie.
Along with a divine power, Prather credits his natural curiosity for getting involved. For Gemalsky, the donation is an indication of Prather’s character of generosity.
“It takes someone very special to do it, but believe me, there are a lot of people who would step up to the plate if they knew the need,” said Gemalsky.
According to the Living Kidney Donors Network, 93,000 are currently on the waiting list for a kidney and that wait is a minimum of five years.
“You could take that wait list and change it to a couple of months,” said Prather. “To me, that would be torment to be waiting five years, just torment … Over 70 percent receive (kidneys) from people who have passed away and sadly enough, only 30 percent from living donors. That should be the opposite way.”
Through the recovery process and the travel time, Prather said he would donate a piece of himself to Gemalsky all over again if given the chance.
“I’m a bachelor, he’s a married man, has kids, he’s a young guy and someone who has a passion for family. No one should have to die young,” said Prather.
For more information about polycystic kidney disease visit pkdcure.org. To learn more about how to become a living donor, visit the National Kidney Registry at kidneyregistry.org.