Moreland resident needs second kidney transplant
by Ana Ivey
Unlike most retirees, Moreland resident Mike Mahoney does not have time or energy to enjoy his hobbies.
He no longer tinkers with his bright red ‘67 Camaro or his ivory ‘68 Mustang. Nor does he fish in Coweta’s watering holes or plant rows of corn, beans and okra on his 16 acres like he once did.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – for five hours at a stretch, Mahoney is strapped to a dialysis machine that filters waste and excess water from his blood. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’s in and out of doctors’ offices.
When he’s home, the 68-year-old settles into his dark brown recliner to watch “Live with Kelly and Michael” and “Perry Mason” reruns. And he waits for a phone call, the one that will grant him new life for a decade, maybe longer.
Mahoney is waiting for a kidney transplant.
“This will be my second one,” said Mahoney, from the living room of his ranch-style home. “I received my first kidney transplant in June of 1995. It lasted 17 years, but now I’m back in kidney failure.”
For Mahoney, life is a waiting game.
Mahoney grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, and moved to Georgia in 1965 to study dairy science at the University of Georgia. Upon graduation two years later, he married Linda and moved back to upstate New York to milk cows and work the fields at Noblehurst Farms.
A year later, at the age of 22, Mahoney survived a minor car accident. But within a week, his unquenchable thirst and frequent trips to the bathroom raised red flags. He underwent medical tests, and the news was ominous.
“I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes,” said Mahoney. The diagnosis was a sucker punch to the otherwise healthy young man who wrestled and swam in high school. “I found out then that a lot of diabetics have kidney trouble.”
It was the beginning of a downward spiral for his health. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure. For Mahoney, it was just a matter of time.
In January 1969, the Mahoneys welcomed their one and only child, Todd. Mahoney, a reserved man who punctuates his comments with occasional laughter, remembers cheering for his son at the ball fields and soccer parks, fishing at nearby ponds, and building pinewood derby cars together. By then, the family was living in Coweta, where Mahoney worked as an environmentalist for the county.
He later transferred to the district office in LaGrange to become the environmental health director.
But in 1995, Mahoney received another blow — his energy level started to drop. Blood tests showed his creatinine levels were rising. Creatinine is a chemical waste product in the blood that passes through the kidneys to be filtered and eliminated in urine.
His kidneys weren’t doing their job. Renal failure, he was told.
At the age of 50, Mahoney was forced to retire.
“I was on the [transplant] list for one-and-a-half years,” said Mahoney. While waiting, he began a three-times-a-week ritual of dialysis.
“Dialysis keeps your blood clean, but it doesn’t give you a great quality of life,” said Mahoney. “You just lose all your energy. New kidneys bring your energy level back up.”
Eventually, he got the call and, in June 1995, he underwent his first kidney transplant.
“A living donor is a better match. They’re supposed to last longer, but my first one was from a cadaver,” said Mahoney. “It was only supposed to last 7-10 years, but it lasted 17 years.”
“When you have a kidney that lasts a long time, you know it was a really good quality kidney placed in someone who took really good care of it,” said Dr. Ken Newell, professor of surgery and director of the living donor program at the Emory Transplant Center in Atlanta. According to Newell’s most recent data, kidneys from cadavers lasted 8.8 years in 2005 while those from a living donor endured 11.9 years.
Mahoney beat the odds the first time around. Perhaps he can do it again — only this time, with a living donation.
Mahoney is looking at a three- to four-year wait for a new kidney. In the meantime, he is waited on by Linda, his wife of 45 years. She left her job in the purchasing department at Newnan Hospital 10 years ago to take care of her husband.
“It’s a 24-hour-a-day job to keep him spry,” she said, laughing. In addition to being his personal chauffeur, the pretty blonde spends much time in the kitchen. Like Martha Stewart juggling only a handful of ingredients, she concocts her husband’s limited meal options.
“His diet is very strict and very hard to follow,” she said. “Everything is restricted. No pizza, no hot dogs, no spaghetti sauce. No potatoes, no beans, no bananas, no dairy. No citrus, no cereal, no oatmeal. Nothing processed.”
Laughing again, she said, “I bet you’re wondering, What do we eat? Well, he can have apple juice, white bread, rice. He can eat corn products, grapes.”
“I eat grits three to four times a week,” added Mahoney. “A lot of chicken, turkey lunch meat, baked pork chops. I eat eggs in the morning. Three on the mornings I go to dialysis because I need the extra protein. Otherwise, two scrambled.”
“We never use salt so I use a lot of spices to make things taste better,” continued Mrs. Mahoney. “We don’t go out to eat because everything is so high in salt – just every once in a while.”
Outside of immediate family, the once social couple rarely entertains. His compromised immune system won’t allow it.
“We don’t go into crowds and people don’t come around here,” said Mrs. Mahoney. “I tell people, ‘If you think you’re going to have a cold next year, don’t come.’ We have to be really careful.”
It’s a solitary life for a man who was once active in the community.
Over the years Mahoney has served as a member of the Newnan-Coweta Jaycees, on the board of directors for Coweta Festivals Inc. and as a member of Moreland United Methodist Church.
What he misses most, he said, “is the ability to play with my grandson.” Jonathan, 11, lives in Whitesburg. “I wish I could play baseball or football or basketball with him or take him fishing. My wife has had to do a lot of the boy things with him because I just can’t do it.”
Mahoney celebrated his 68th birthday on May 23. His son Todd, a Newnan firefighter, surprised him with a new bush hog. They attached it to his tractor and took it for a spin around the property where fields of overgrown grass and weeds need cutting and trimming.
Mike Mahoney hopes to get out there someday. Fix up the yard. Trim back the weeds. But with little time and energy — and a potential four-year wait for a new kidney — the fields may have to lie fallow a bit longer.