AUBURN — Adam Crozier of Auburn celebrated his 41st birthday on April 25.
The day before, he had received a gift he thought he would never see — a kidney transplant he had awaited for more than six years, and a procedure that took place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So it was a heck of a birthday present,” said Crozier, who now is recovering at home, where he continues to make good progress.
“In retrospect it started very early on with a sixth-grade physical,” Crozier said of his kidney issues.
“I had an extremely high amount of protein in urine, and they did some diagnostics. At that time, unfortunately, they were going the wrong direction. They looked at urinary tract infection potential, some other things. They never really looked at kidneys, which is interesting, because what I know now is that should have kinda been the first place to go.”
Crozier said he was told, at that point, that maybe his condition and high levels were “just kind of normal” for him, and so he thought it was nothing to be concerned about.
That continued to be “normal” for Crozier until about 13 years ago.
“We went to increase our life insurance when my daughter was born,” Crozier explained. In doing so he had to have a physical, blood draw and lab tests.
“They came back three times and wouldn’t really disclose why they weren’t approving it, but kept coming back and drawing new labs. Finally they advised me to have my doctor request them, which I did, and he immediately called me and said, ‘Hey, you need to come in and see me today, and I’ve got you set up for a specialist appointment tomorrow,’” Crozier recalled.
Crozier saw a nephrologist, who told him Crozier’s lab tests were showing end-stage renal failure and that he needed to be put on dialysis right away. At that point, to his knowledge, Crozier said, he had not been experiencing any other health issues that would cause him any alarm.
“And that’s sort of why I refused the dialysis at that point. I said, ‘You need to come up with another option here, because I don’t feel sick, I don’t feel like I’m dying today or tomorrow. … We need to figure something else out,” Crozier added.
Crozier said the doctor worked with him a little bit, put him on a “pretty heavy dose” of steroids for 30 days and did some things to help get Crozier’s lab number back down to where he felt they were more manageable. A biopsy revealed Crozier’s kidney function was less than 20%.
“Really, that became the status quo for about the next 6 1/2 years or so,” Crozier said.
Then, about six years ago, Crozier was attending a trade show as part of his job as a sales manager and felt unwell throughout the entire event. The very next week, Crozier and his family had a Disney vacation planned. They went, and Crozier said that while he did not feel too bad, he couldn’t keep food down and would become nauseated and ill even from the smell of food.
Crozier called his nephrologist, who told him, “We need to have a pretty serious discussion.”
“Your labs have always shown that you needed to be on dialysis. Now your body’s telling us that,” the doctor said.
So, six years ago, Crozier began dialysis. He and his wife, Belinda, trained immediately in home hemodialysis and continued on home dialysis for around six years.
“That helped quite a bit. I felt much better,” Crozier said.
Home dialysis enabled him to continue to work as a sales manager for a short-line equipment distributor. He also was able to travel with the supplies and machine, and his wife would travel with him.
Crozier had been on the waiting list for a kidney transplant for more than six years, even before going on hemodialysis.
“I had gotten a call to have an appointment with the transplant surgeon right the week before the initial (COVID-19) quarantine in the state. Then of course the quarantine happened, and they called and said ‘Regardless of that, you’re close enough to the top of the list, the surgeon still wants to see you,’” Crozier said.
Crozier said he had second thoughts about taking a deceased donor’s kidney and thought he would just wait until he found the right living donor.
But being an Indiana Donor Network advocate and becoming involved with Driven 2 Save Lives enabled him to talk to people who had lost loved ones and how the donation process helped with their grieving.
“It helped me come to terms with the fact that the deceased donor was probably the way to go, just because we’d tried so hard and worked so hard to find a living donor and weren’t having success. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to cross paths with them,” he said of Driven 2 Save Lives and those involved in the organization.
Crozier went to Indianapolis to see the transplant surgeon, who told him the transplant was still on. It was just a case of waiting for the right kidney.
Then, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, University Hospital, where Crozier was to have had his surgery, stopped performing kidney transplants for about two or three weeks.
“So really it was sort of put on the back burner,” Crozier said.
Crozier said when the quarantine period for the public health emergency began, he did not believe he would ever see the transplant happen. He and his wife decided — separately — to live their lives as though surgery wasn’t in the cards.
“We had both just decided mentally that that day would never come, that we were just going to live our lives the best we could with the dialysis and not make excuses and just do what we could to make that the best scenario possible,” Crozier said.
“So I was really really surprised on April 23 … when I got a call from the transplant center saying that they had a kidney and they needed me to come to Indianapolis. I was not aware that they had started doing transplants again at the beginning of that week.
“It was a surprise more so than had it come at any other random time, just because I was sort of under the impression that I wasn’t in a position to get one at that time. So it was a nice surprise. It really was!”
Crozier ended up driving himself to Indianapolis, because his wife would not have been able to stay with him due to the pandemic.
“So she came down the next morning, saw me for five minutes as they were wheeling me into the operating room, and then I got to see her for about 10 minutes or so afterward, and then I didn’t see her until I checked out of the hospital.
“It made the decision-making process of should she stay in Indy the entire time … all of the things that we had sort of debated on, it simplified everything for us. It made it more streamlined,” Crozier said. “She couldn’t visit me in the hospital during the entire duration, so there was no reason for her to stay in Indianapolis.“
Crozier said he and his wife texted and talked and video-called each day. While at home in Auburn, Crozier’s wife participated in conference calls that provided training for post-operative care. Crozier was discharged from the hospital on April 28.
“Everything went extremely well. I couldn’t be happier. The kidney was functioning right away,” he said.
“Things that had been bothering me for years … things feel fantastic.”
Crozier said he immediately could tell a difference in his energy levels.
“I just didn’t have the energy loss, the lethargy, that I’d been dealing with for about the last two years really,” he said.
Another concern for Crozier was that for about the last year while he was on dialysis, he had been fighting nausea and vomiting that was triggered by food smells.
“To not experience that, and to have more energy, to just feel better, to have less joint pain, all of those things have just been a blessing since transplant,” he said.
Currently, Crozier’s protocol involves going to University Hospital two days a week to see his doctor and have lab tests, which, so far, have been “really, really strong,” Crozier added.
“I feel very fortunate. I feel very lucky.”
Has also has responded well to immunosuppressants, so his dosage has been reduced.
“That’s the path we want to be on. That’s the direction we want to go,” he said.
Eventually his hospital visits will drop to once a week, and then once a quarter. For the rest of his life he will be taking medication to keep his immune system in check so he does not have rejection of the kidney, and he needs to be mindful because he will have a suppressed immune system, he said.
Reflecting on undergoing surgery during a pandemic, Crozier noted the energy and enthusiasm of the hospital staff that worked with him.
“At the hospital, everybody on that floor had been either placed in another wing or was working elsewhere or laid off or just took time off while they weren’t doing kidney transplants, and I would say the energy from the staff, from the nurses to the techs to even the food service, it was just fantastic, because that seems to be a place where they want to work … they wanted to be there. Several of them commented on it was nice to be back doing what they wanted to do. It was fantastic. They really were a fantastic staff,” Crozier said.
Along with his wife, Crozier also commends other family members for their support. He describes his 13-year-old daughter, Alivia, as “unflappable,” noting she used to help with his dialysis.
“She would help me bandage up,” he added.
His son, Colton, works full-time out of the house and has had to temporarily move in with Crozier’s brother while Crozier recuperates.
“I’m very grateful that we have family here close. Everybody’s pitching in .. they’re very understanding of what we need to do now to make this work,” he added.
“At some point I will reach out to our donor family and obviously offer condolences and thanks, and if they want to communicate I certainly would be open to that, but I figure at this point … obviously it’s pretty fresh of a loss, so I wanted to wait a little bit before we start that process,” Crozier said.
“At some point I certainly want to reach out and give thanks and let them know at least where this part of that life went and what we’re doing with it.”