Larry Walter is a fighter, which is ironic because Walter rarely raises his voice or speaks an unkind word. But make no mistake about it, he has been fighting almost every day for more than a quarter of a century to survive.
For the last 26 years, the 62-year-old has lived through a medical journey that quite possibly would have killed many patients, but still Walter fights on, for himself and for others through recent speaking engagements throughout the state about the importance of organ donations.
Since 1990, the husband, father of two, and grandfather has been on dialysis multiple times, received two kidney transplants, suffered 13 heart attacks, undergone triple by-pass surgery, an Aortic valve replacement and has survived cardiac arrest and countless other hospitalizations, yet he continues to move forward with his work and life, never giving up.
“Prior to 1990 I was a healthy man,” Walter said. “I was married to the love of my life, Toni and we had two sons, J.R. (11 at the time) and Aaron (who was 9).
“I was working 50 hours a week, traveling with my work as the marketing manager at Missouri Pressed Metals, playing softball and co-ed volleyball,” he added. “I had a good life.”
Everything changed later that year for Walter when a routine check-up for work showed he had elevated creatinine levels.
“My family doctor decided to send me to a nephrologist just to check it out,” Walter said. “After an ultrasound they discovered I only had one working kidney.
“My left kidney was the size of a silver dollar and the right was normal size,” he continued. “They did a biopsy and I was told I had FSG (Focal Schlerosing Glomerulonephritis).”
Walter said FSG didn’t sound all that bad, but admitted he didn’t know a lot about kidneys.
He was soon to find out.
“At the time I thought ‘I’ll take a pill and keep going,’” Walter said. “Wrong, it was much more serious than I thought and I was told the disease would get progressively worse.
“I would need to go on dialysis and hopefully receive a transplant,” he added.
If a silver lining could be found it came in the form of a very close friend to the couple, Elaine Rehmer. Rehmer had undergone a successful kidney transplant and so the family knew they had a trusted adviser.
“Elaine worked at the University of Missouri-Columbia Hospital in endochronology and made an appointment with a nephrologist who is the best in the state,” Walter said. “For the next year I continued to see my doctor at MU and a dietitian so I might stave off dialysis for a while.
“For the next five years I continued working and traveling but my doctor was noticing that my labs were starting to go downhill,” Walter added. “My doctors were leaving it up to me to decide when enough was enough and to consider dialysis.”
In January 1995, while at a business meeting in San Diego, Walter noticed his legs and ankles became “huge,” as he described them, and he was retaining fluid.
After consulting his doctors upon his return, Walter said he knew it was time to give in and begin a regimen he was not looking forward to facing.
“On Feb. 20, 1995, I began dialysis at DCI (Dialysis Clinics Incorporated) in Columbia,” Walter said. “For the next 21 months I continued dialysis three times a week, for three hours and 15 minutes each treatment.
“Toni and I would make the 150-miles round trip to and from Smithton to Columbia, arriving back home around 10 p.m. each night,” he explained. “Throughout all the trips Toni was there all the while.”
During the 21 months of dialysis, Walter had been on a transplant list and received calls about possible organ donors, usually being told he was third on the list.
Walter described the time as an emotional roller coaster for both he and the family of anticipation and waiting, only to receive a call telling him the kidney had gone to another recipient.
Walter was never mad or disappointed when he didn’t receive a transplant.
“I always knew that someone else needed the kidney more, when it went to someone else,” Walter said. “I was never mad or upset because I knew someday, when the right one for me was available I would receive it.
“On Oct. 13, 1996, I received a call at 4:30 in the morning that an organ may be available but again, I was third on the list.” Walter said. “We didn’t want to get our hopes up or the hopes of everyone else so we decided not to let the family know.
“As we got ready for Mass that morning, the organ donation coordinator called, telling me the two individuals before me were not able to receive the kidney and I needed to come to Columbia to the hospital for a work-up to confirm if I was a match for the kidney.”
Walter received a dialysis treatment to get him in the best possible shape for the transplant and then was taken to surgery.
Walter’s organ donor was a 16-year-old who lost his life in an automobile accident.
“His parents fulfilled his wish of being an organ donor and I will be forever grateful to them,” Walter said. “For the next six years my new kidney continued to work great until late in 2002 when it began to fail.
“It was nothing about the kidney, it was the anti-rejection medication that had been changed three months prior by the insurance company so they could save money,” he said. “That’s what caused the kidney to fail.”
From January 2003 to November 2005 Walter began the process of dialysis once again, only this time in Boonville.
“The drive to Boonville was shorter and eventually I was able to make the drive myself,” Walter commented. “I continued to work full time at Missouri Pressed Metals but I was no longer able to travel with my work.
“I developed some heart problems and suffered several heart attacks while on dialysis,” he explained. “In April of 2005 I had to have an Aortic valve replaced.”
Replacing the Aortic valve meant Walter had to come off the active transplant list until he could be cleared.
Walter’s dialysis continued for 34 months.
“On Nov. 15, 2005, I received a call in the morning from the transplant coordinator letting us know that a kidney may be available,” Walter said. “I was told to go about my day and I would be called once the organ arrived at the hospital.
“At 7:30 that evening I was taken to surgery, where I received my second kidney, from a 17-year-old donor who was also fatally injured in an automobile accident,” he said. “His parents donated his organs so that their son might live.”
On Nov. 15, Walter will celebrate the 11th anniversary of his second kidney transplant.
Walter’s second kidney transplant continues to be “perfect,” to use his word, and remains so, despite the fact that Nov. 5, 2011, Walter collapsed and suddenly seized, turning purple from the chest up and for 20 minutes was in textbook medical terminology, “dead.”
The story of Walter’s fight and recovery from cardiac arrest along with his life and work today will appear in an upcoming edition of the Democrat.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.