Veteran struggles to overcome kidney failure from Agent Orange
J. LYNN TEEPLE
For The Pocono Record
April 12, 2007
As bleak as complete kidney failure once was, advances in medicine have improved its diagnosis and treatment. Individuals can lead reasonably normal lives through dialysis and transplantation.
Garry Norsworthy, who has chronic kidney disease, has been waiting for a transplant for 15 months. His blood type is O-positive.
At 56 years old, the Albrightsville resident describes himself as "retired military, 1st Lieutenant, Charlie Company 75th Rangers."
He says a lot of his support comes from fellow Rangers who network through the Internet.
Coming to terms with what happened, he explains, "I got doused many times with dioxin — would fly lights-out at night, just dump the stuff. First light we thought it was just dew on the grass, but it had a noxious odor, almost sweet." He pauses. "We were just a bunch of kids. We didn't know.
"What the dioxin does is it gravitates to the liver, stays for years and years, and then starts causing problems," he says.
The progression went from bad to worse: high blood pressure and diabetes, body chemicals out of balance, kidneys that could not adequately remove water and wastes.
"In time it fried my kidneys," he says.
While awaiting a biopsy to determine if Agent Orange has affected his liver, he resigns himself that "a kidney goes to the person who can take best care of it."
Finding a suitable donor involves DNA compatibility. First, tissue from a donor and a recipient are combined to test for a reaction. If there isn't any, "it's then broken down to fit within six criteria called antigens," says Karen Steigerwalt of Palmerton Dialysis. "We get 50 percent from each of our parents, but unbelievably there are times when people who are unrelated have all six antigens."
Norsworthy is upbeat and hopeful when he says, "I am an excellent candidate. I get blue ribbons at my exams."
He spends three days a week on dialysis. He now has a portable home dialysis unit which will allows him to remove poisons and byproducts from his system on a daily basis.
The machine weighs 75 pounds, so it's not portable in the sense of carrying it around, but Norsworthy isn't discouraged. He has plans to visit some friends over the summer.
He summarizes with a meaningful anecdote. "I was asked to endorse a book, 'Of Their Own Accord' by Gary Dolan; the publisher liked it so much he printed my commentary on the front cover."
That proud moment led to a more amazing event.
Norsworthy hadn't seen or heard from his "blood-kin brother" for more than 30 years. "One day in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., or as he says, 'Fort La-di-da,' my brother sees my name on this book, and goes to the computer to see if he can find me."
He calls the publisher's secretary and says, "I know Garry, I'm his brother."
It turned out they didn't share compatible tissue, but at least they were reunited.
As far as his Vietnam brothers, he is dedicated: "Your family is not always your blood ties, but having both is nice."http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/NEWS01/704120310