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Laugh & heal together

After the giving and receiving of a kidney, the Bowman family had planned for a very merry Christmas.

Then more medical complications struck the family and Christmas this year isn't exactly what they had planned.

It started in 2008 when Dennis Bowman, Detroit Lakes, became ill. "Two years ago, he fell at deer camp and got all stiff," his wife, Jan, said.

His doctor was out, so he saw another doctor, ordering an MRI. He was treated for vertigo, but ended up going into renal failure, or kidney failure, eight days later -- something the Bowmans were told has similar symptoms to vertigo.

"Not being a specialist, that GP (general practitioner) was treating him for vertigo, and that drug is considered a kidney killer," she said.

After going into renal failure, Dennis left the hospital and went home, where he was served by Home Health. Those nurses took his blood pressure, which was 60 over 40. (Average is 120/80.)

Dennis was taken by ambulance to Fargo, where he was doing better until later that week when he got staph infection in his heart.

"So, he was gone from the house from Nov. 24 to Feb. 25," Jan said.

He was also on dialysis since his kidneys weren't functioning properly.

"He was doing well on dialysis, but they thought he could do better with a transplant," Jan said. "So they ran it past him and he said, yeah, he'd be interested."

Jan tested to see if she was a match for her husband, but she wasn't. Dennis' daughter-in-law Shelley and his grandson said they would both test as well.

"The first one to step up was our grandson," Jan said.

At the time, though, their grandson was 17, and everyone agreed he was too young because of the side-affects of donating an organ.

"They just said he was too young. I think when kids are that age, they have this idea that they are indestructible," Jan said.

But, something as simple as not being able to take ibuprofen again is a side affect he would have to deal with for the rest of his life.

So after Dennis recovered and got strong enough to endure a transplant, Shelley tested and was a match. That was in July.

"I had no problem with it," she said of giving one of her kidneys to her father-in-law.

On Oct. 13, the two went in for the transplant.

"Oh, I was very sore for about a month," she said of recovery after the operation. Many times, recovery can be worse for the donor than it is the recipient.

Now though, she's feeling good, and has gone back to working part-time.

Dennis had some problems after the transplant as well. He went into congestive heart failure -- even though the doctor had put him through several heart tests before the surgery to make sure he could withstand the transplant. But the anti-rejection medication became too high in his system, actually slowing the kidney down.

"He was still drinking all the fluids they wanted him to, and he just started to flood," she said. "He spent more time back in the hospital for congestive heart failure than he did for the kidney transplant.

"But, they got him wrung out, as my sister calls it, and got all his blood numbers back where they belong."

Now, finally, he's doing better.

The relief felt by the Bowman family ended just a month later, when, two days after his 43rd birthday, Shelley's husband, and Dennis' son, Monte, suffered a stroke.

"He was driving truck, going to Nebraska, his normal Sunday run," Shelley said. "And he got shooting pain in his right eye."

He had numbness in his left shoulder and tingling in his hand -- knowing something was wrong, he went to the doctor.

Doctors couldn't find anything wrong except for the fact that his blood pressure was quite high. He stayed in the hospital overnight for observation, was put on blood pressure medication and was sent home the following day.

"I noticed he wasn't walking right, his balance was off," Shelley said. "The next day he noticed he was having a lot of vision problems."

Shelley took her husband back into the emergency room, and from there he was taken to a Fargo hospital by ambulance. He received an MRI scan there and found that he had had six mini-strokes.

That was about a month ago. Since then, his left side is numb, he has vision loss, he is on insulin now for diabetes, and he has occupational and physically therapy three days a week.

Monte also can't drive, which means he can't work the career he always has as a truck driver.

Not knowing if he'll get his vision back or if the numbness will dissipate, the future is quite unknown at this point.

"They said it can come back and it may not come back," Shelley said.

The cause of Monte's strokes came from arthrosclerosis, or the hardening of his blood vessels. Age, gender, diabetes and high blood pressure also came into play, she added.

Monte is now on medication to help with the hardening of vessels, a medication he'll be on the rest of his life.

"Things are going pretty steady right now," Jan said. "Monte's in therapy, and we have high hopes that some of that eyesight will come back."

Jan has written letters for Christmas wishes through Fargo and Detroit Lakes programs, and Habitat for Humanity on behalf of Monte and Shelley. Jan said their house was tied to his job and since he can't drive truck, they may lose their rental house in the future.

"We deal with these things with humor," Jan said.

From Monte making cracks about placing his food to his right or he won't find it, to his sister teasing that she'd be happy to take his blood pressure.

On Jan. 15, Billy's Bar is hosting a benefit for Monte and Shelley from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. They will have a silent auction and a meal, and the Fat Cats will provide music.