Third time’s the charm

By Jenni Vincent
Staff Writer
Posted 5/2/07

Editor’s note: New Lease on Life is a continuing series on organ donation that runs exclusively in the Daphne Bulletin.

Next week, learn more about the man whose kidney donation has helped Daphne resident Bill Dobbins lead a normal life — and …

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Third time’s the charm


Editor’s note: New Lease on Life is a continuing series on organ donation that runs exclusively in the Daphne Bulletin.

Next week, learn more about the man whose kidney donation has helped Daphne resident Bill Dobbins lead a normal life — and the special bond between these two families.

DAPHNE — Bill Dobbins doesn’t take anything for granted.

Playing air hockey with his son, spending time with his wife and being home for family holidays all rank high on his priority list.

That’s because Dobbins, who has already had three kidney transplants, knows how it feels not to be able to do any of the things that really matter to him. He even knows how it feels to be hospitalized for major holidays.

He also endured years of dialysis, “difficult times that I really had to fight to work through,” Dobbins said.

“At that point, I almost didn’t know how to feel good because I’d had so many problems.”  

But thanks to his most recent kidney transplant, Dobbins is living the kind of life that many take for granted, he said.

“I think this was the first Christmas in five years that I’d been home,” Dobbins said.

Not that getting to this point has been easy, he said, explaining that his father’s life was cut short by polycystic kidney problems. Although he was one of the first individuals to receive dialysis — which was very new and somewhat experimental at the time — he still died at age 38, Dobbins said.

Dobbins discovered in college that he had inherited this same medical problem, although it didn’t really begin impacting his health until he was in his 40s, he said.

In a way, that gave him time to prepare for the inevitable, Dobbins said.

“The average person with kidney failure doesn’t know they are getting it. In my case, I had plenty of time to educate myself on this problem as well as to get ready for it mentally,” he said. “I just knew years ahead of time that this was coming and I studied up on it.” 

His first kidney transplant surgery was 10 years ago at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, but that was only the beginning, Dobbins said.

“I was in the hospital for several months because I started losing it about a week after I got it. I still have the shakes from the drugs they gave me then while trying to save it,” he said.

Dobbins’ second transplant was done in 2000 at the University of South Alabama Transplant Center in Mobile and “that lasted for almost four years,” he said.

“But I was real lucky when my second one started failing, because it wasn’t but about three months that I was able to get one that matched,” Dobbins said, adding that his third transplant surgery was also performed at USA.

Kidney failure takes its toll physically, Dobbins said.

“You just kind of know because you have no energy and you just start getting really tired,” he said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, getting a new kidney is both a physical and psychological lift, Dobbins said.

“As soon as it starts working, you start feeling better right away and that’s a great feeling,” he said with a smile.

“But there’s also the mental — almost a spiritual — aspect to getting a transplant, because you realize just how blessed you are to have the opportunity to live a relatively normal life again. And I am also reminded that God has a purpose for my life, so I’ve got to keep going. You just have to roll with the punches.”

Monitoring his health is still a priority, Dobbins said.

For example, other health issues have come up — such as heart problems — that may be indirectly linked to years of living with kidney disease, he said.

“I’ve been on blood pressure pills for 40 years and that affects every part of your body when you have this,” Dobbins said. “One thing tends to lead to another.”

“Right now I still have to take pretty close to 20 pills twice a day. Some of the pills are for my kidneys, but some of them are to counteract the side effects of the other medicine. But the good news is, that for the most part right now, I feel fine.”  

After having had surgery at both facilities, Dobbins said he feels fortunate to have gotten quality medical care so much closer to his Daphne home.

“There’s quite a difference between the two places. UAB is very large and has several surgeons because they do all types of transplants there. But at USA, they will probably have 20 people at most in clinic, since they only do kidney transplants,” Dobbins said.

“Because it is smaller, you really develop a relationship with the medical staff at USA. And I know if I have a problem, they want to know about it and I can always get an answer to my questions,” he said. “I can go in there right now and they will know me by name and that has been comforting to have such personal attention.” 

Life is much improved thanks to this latest transplant, said his wife Ann.   

“It’s hard to say what this has meant to him and our family, because it means so much that he is here with us now. Before this, he spent half of our married life and holidays in the hospital,”  she said.

“We’re just glad to be all together here in our home. But we know that our life wouldn’t be the same without the organ donor and the medical staff who made it possible.”