After wreck on the way home from hospital, Deal in need of second kidney transplant

Published 12:02 am Saturday, February 26, 2022

Nick Deal was on top of the world.

Deal told his family and friends he would be able to regain his life with his new kidney. His wife, Donna Deal, waited on Nick as he was headed home, finally free of the kidney issues that had complicated the last two years of his life.

Niece April Hanna picked him up on Valentine’s Day at the Atrium Health medical center in Charlotte and anticipated a quick drive north on Interstate 85 to the Deal home, where Donna was already recuperating. She donated the kidney to her husband of 44 years.

But near the Concord Mills exit, a multi-vehicle wreck resulted in a Brink’s armored vehicle smashing into the rear of Hanna’s van. Nick was transported quickly to Atrium Health Northeast where doctors sent him back to Atrium Health Main in Charlotte and his transplant team awaited. They tried, but they couldn’t save Nick’s new kidney.

The wreck’s impact was so forceful the kidney didn’t survive, and he’s now in need of a new donor. Still, Donna says, “It could have been worse. Nick had originally planned to ride in one of the two back seats of the van and stretch out. Those seats were crushed and bent forward by the impact.”

First kidney donation

Nick retired and closed his Firestone Garage in March 2020. He had two 10-year stints running his own garage with another 10-year segment with NASCAR sandwiched in between. Shortly after, in July 2021, a doctor’s appointment found that neither of Nick’s kidneys were operating normally. He was referred in May 2021 to a nephrologist, a specialist in kidney care, because of extremely high blood pressure. During a week in the hospital, Nick and Donna waited for answers.

Nick had a fistula wrist procedure for vascular access in anticipation of dialysis. Nick experienced dehydration and extreme cramping and often used Advil and ibuprofen. Donna found out later both drugs added to the kidney issues and was told the better choice would have been Tylenol.

After blood work, the nephrologist referred Nick to dialysis in late December.

“It was a bad experience and very painful,” Donna said. “Things didn’t go well, and Nick decided not to go back. We wanted to explore a live kidney donation.”

Donna, an executive assistant at Atrium, turned out to be a perfect match for her husband. Testing and screening took about five months. Blood tests must match and includes a mixing of the blood to test for rejection. Donna’s kidneys were tested for their own urine output and overall health, using a nuclear stress test with dyes injected into her body.

Surgery was scheduled for Feb. 9, with final testing that included another round of blood work, an EKG and a chest X-ray. Kidney transplant surgery at Atrium began with a 4:30 a.m. arrival for Donna, Nick and Hanna.

“My surgery started about 90 minutes before Nick’s. I had one 2-inch incision and two other small ones and remained in the hospital for four nights,” Donna said.

Nick’s separate team of doctors took the kidney, attached it and monitored his kidney functions. Donna’s kidney was smaller and took a while to lower Nick’s creatine level. He spent two extra nights in the hospital where he began to call friends and tell them the good news. He was excited about life, said Mike Yost, his longtime friend.

“Nick was ready to get back to living, doing the things he had missed,” Yost said.

Post-wreck condition

Nick’s condition was serious after the wreck and upon his arrival at nearby Atrium Health Northeast. His breathing was shallow and he received four units of blood.

After transport to Atrium Health Main, doctors worked for two hours trying to save the new kidney. They determined that with the loss of blood and time, the kidney was not salvageable. Nick spent two nights in emergency trauma before moving to the transplant floor and eventually home.

Nick, 62, continues his recovery at home where Donna can monitor him and work remotely. After two major surgeries in a week, Nick says the developments are disheartening more than anything.

“I’m still sore from the surgeries, but I’m getting by with my original kidneys for the time being. They are operating at about 8%,” Nick said.

Dialysis is likely ahead, but Nick still hopes for another donor.

Donna, 63, said Nick won’t be limited because of the prior surgeries and both he and April are healing from the wreck.

Nick added, “I’m sure glad that I didn’t ride in that back seat and next time we won’t ride home on the interstate.”

A new donor would have about five months of testing to prove the match is good. There is no cost to any potential donor for the testing and medical procedures. All costs are covered by Atrium and the recipient’s insurance. Lifestyle of the donor is an important factor. Nick’s blood type is A negative. So, a compatible donor would be either blood type A or O, either negative or positive.

For the time being, Nick and Donna will move forward together.

“I have asked family and friends to pray for our strength in the days ahead,” Donna said. “Prayers and positive thinking will get us through this, and I will be there with him every step of the way.”

For more information, email Donna at dddeal@mindspring.com or visit atriumhealth.org/medical-services/specialty-care/transplant.

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