08/19/07 — Still fighting for each other ...

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Still fighting for each other ...

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on August 19, 2007 10:08 AM

Kris Kraft Brewer once broke her leg fending off bullies for her brother on a schoolyard playground in Groveville, N.J.

An easy decision for a sister who loved her brother.

So, it wasn't hard for Karl Kraft to decide what to do when he heard his younger sister needed a kidney.

He gave her one of his.

"I was very protective of her, and she was very protective of me," said Kraft, now 60, recalling how the playground tormentor grabbed Kris' leg and broke it with a twist after she tried kicking him.

Mrs. Brewer, 55, who lives with husband, Jim, in the Grantham area, has been diagnosed with Wegener's granulomatosis, a rare disorder.

With Wegener's, tissues throughout the body become inflamed, damaging the kidneys, lungs and upper respiratory tract.

That damage, preceded by Goodpasture's Syndrome, put Mrs. Brewer in need of a kidney.

Goodpasture's -- another systemic connective tissue disorder -- was a precursor to Wegener's in her case, Mrs. Brewer said.

Before that, she had an in-home dialysis machine that doctors told her "would be a temporary fix".

Kraft, who lives with his wife, Evelyn, and daughter, Karlyn, in Mantua, N.J., immediately had blood tests to see if his kidney would suit his sister.

They did, and the two had the operation July 30.

The following Thursday, the pair were both walking well, and talking. Mrs. Brewer said she needed a week in Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville to recover.

Kraft's wife said she never had a doubt that her husband, a senior pastor for the United Methodist Church of Mantua, should donate his kidney.

"He decided this is what he was supposed to do," Mrs. Kraft said. "We've had the prayers of so many people that I wasn't really worried."

Church groups and the couple's workplaces were supportive, too, they said. The Brewers attend Falling Creek United Methodist Church in the Grantham area.

When Mrs. Brewer was first diagnosed, husband Jim said, he worried about how the couple would cope with Mrs. Kraft's illness.

Their daughter, Amanda, suffered brain damage at birth and also requires attentive care. At the time of diagnosis, Amanda was still in high school.

But CAP, the Community Alternative Program, then supported by a combination of local, state and federal funding, came to their aid.

When Amanda turned 18, she moved into a Howell's Support Services of Goldsboro, where "she's doing very well," said Mrs. Brewer, also a part-time secretary at Wayne Opportunity Center on George Street in Goldsboro.

The Brewers said they have not told Amanda about the kidney transplant yet, fearing she would worry.

"Amanda has a memory like a bear trap," Brewer said. On her twice-monthly Sunday visits home, Amanda checks her mother's stomach for the dialysis access.

That memory means the couple must tell Amanda fairly soon -- the dialysis access point is now replaced by a scar where the new kidney went in, Mrs. Brewer said.

"All she'll see is the scars," Brewer said. "But she's pretty good about understanding."

Both couples say they want to become organ donation advocates.

Kraft said he was surprised that his 60-year-old kidney was deemed fit for his sister. He also said that besides a rough few first days, being a donor is relatively easy.

Brewer said Kraft's decision meant a future for his wife.

"If Kris hadn't had a live donor, the waiting list is six to eight years," her husband said. "There are people dying every day because of the shortage of organs -- and not only kidneys."

According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, about 65,000 people waited on kidney transplants at the end of 2005. Less than 15,000 kidneys became available by the end of that year, the registry's data shows.

The waiting list for kidneys increases by about 5,000 every two years, the registry's Internet site shows.

But the rapid increases in demand aren't matched by increases in potential donors -- from 1996 to 2005, availability of kidneys increased by around 5,000 organs.

The Brewers and Krafts said they wanted to let potential donors know that their tranplant went easily and was successful, in the hopes it might encourage others.

"Just through taking to the dialysis center and the tranplant folks, we know how great the need is," Brewer said. "Particularly in the African-American community."