A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kristen Bender dedicated her life to the care of others, now she finds herself in need

By Andy Furman

For 22 years Kristen Bender dedicated her life to the care of others.

Now, it’s Bender who is looking for help.

“I’m in need of a kidney,” said the 59-year-old Bender, who serves as a Quality Assurance Director for the Point/Arc in Covington. “My name is currently on two waiting lists,” she said, “Christ Hospital and the University of Kentucky Medical Center.”

Now, all Bender can do is wait – hope – and pray.

“The wait-list time at Christ,” she said, “is some 14 months. At UK, it’s about four years.”

Kristen Bender

Bender said when her doctor checked her blood work, her GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate) number was decreasing her kidney functions – that was back in January 2021.

When your kidneys fail, treatment is needed to replace the work your own kidneys can no longer do. There are two types of treatments for kidney failure—dialysis or transplant. For many people whose kidneys have failed, a kidney transplant can offer more freedom and a better quality of life than dialysis.

Bender says she’s experiencing no pain and needs a partner with type O-positive blood for her transplant.

The problem is quite simple.

“There are so many people with the popular O-positive type,” she said, “That makes the wait for a kidney much longer.”

And, of course, there are certain restrictions for a transplant, she said.

“Your BMI (Body Mass Index) must be 35 or less,” she said.

Bender’s life partner is 72 – and is not a match.

The Lexington, Ky. native – she attended Bryan Station High School – started as a House Manager for The Point/Arc – and did so for about 15 years.

She moved to Ft. Meyers, Fla. to continue her work in health care and serving those with special needs – and decided to return home – and back to The Point/Arc.

“Just around July 2022,” she said, “My doctor recommended testing for a kidney transplant.”

And she totally changed her lifestyle – in eating and exercising.

“I’ve lost about 107 pounds during this process,” she said, “and drastically changed my diet. I started an exercising program as well.”

Bender says her breakfast now consists of cereal – Cheerios — with Almond Milk; a carb-smart meal she claims; and lunch is usually turkey – burgers, tacos or chili—all with turkey – and possibly a salad.

“It gets old at times,” she said, “So sometimes I’ll throw in some shrimp.”

What Kristen Bender does have – is support.

From friends and co-workers at The Point/Arc.

“We’re creating signs to spread the word for Kristen, and hopefully attract a donor for her,” said co-worker Peggy Berkemeyer who serves as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) Training Manager at The Point/Arc. “We’ll have a photo of a kidney inside of a Super Hero Cape,” Berkemeyer, said. “And, of course, the donor will be the Super Hero.”

Berkemeyer also notes that a QR code will be placed on the sign – and distributed throughout the community.

The message on the sign is simple – and to the point: “You Have a Spare – Why Not Share.”

A kidney transplant, sometimes known as a renal transplant, is a treatment for kidney failure at the end stage of renal disease (ESRD). Kidney transplant surgery is a major surgery during which a person with kidney failure receives a new kidney – either from a living donor or a deceased donor. A successful kidney transplant is closest to natural kidney function and is considered the most effective treatment for ESRD – offering a chance for a longer, healthier life.

A person only needs one working kidney to be healthy, so only one kidney is transplanted during surgery. The two original kidneys will usually remain in place and the new donor kidney will be placed in another area of one’s abdomen.

The Point/Arc celebrated its 50th year of service in 2022. It was founded by a group of parents fighting for the rights of their children who were diagnosed with an intellectual and developmental (I/DD) disability. The mission – to help people with disabilities achieve their highest potential educationally, socially, residentially and vocationally. More than this, The Point/Arc has been an organization that identifies gaps in services and provides care and support to fill these gaps – even when government funding sources are not available.

For Donor Information contact Tricia A. Monson, BSN, RN, Donor Transplant Coordinator for The Christ Hospital at tricia.monson@TheChristHospital.com or the University of Kentucky Kidney Transplant Coordinator at 859-257-1000.

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