Jim Hom is an avid traveler, who would rather be exploring remote parts of the world than sitting on a couch.
So, when Hom learned that he had diabetes in his early 40s, he knew he had to make some immediate life changes. He started exercising more and watching his blood sugar by limiting his carbohydrate intake.
While vacationing with his family in Maui in 2001, Hom broke out in a rash. He felt tired and weak. A local doctor diagnosed him with shingles and suspected that his kidneys weren't functioning properly.
When Hom returned to California, his doctor confirmed that his kidneys had deteriorated to the point that he needed dialysis, a procedure in which a machine filters waste products from the blood, essentially taking over the role of the kidneys.
In 2002, Hom put his name on the waiting list to receive a replacement kidney. He waited, patiently, for three years. Meanwhile, he went to UCSF for monthly lab tests and did a half-hour of dialysis at work during the day, and the remainder at home during the night. Finally, he got a call from UCSF, telling him to come in for a kidney transplant. Since the call came just a few hours before he was supposed to report to UCSF for the procedure, Hom decided he wasn't ready.
"I chickened out," Hom said. "As with any big surgery, there's concern that something could go wrong." He returned to his general practitioner in Pleasanton, Calif., who recommended that he reevaluate his decision. "My doctor told me, 'what have you got to lose?'" Hom recalls.
After some thoughtful reconsideration, Hom put his name back on the waiting list. Just a few months later, he got another call from UCSF. This time, he was ready.
Hom received a kidney from a deceased donor — a woman in her 50s, who was appropriately enough, a runner. With the help of Dr. Sandy Feng, an organ transplant surgeon, the procedure went smoothly.
The day after his surgery, he was able to walk. For three days, he felt weak, but continued to roam the hallways. Hom returned to his active routine a couple weeks later, with his energy recharged. He was fortunate to not experience any medication side effects. He felt so good, in fact, that after the surgery his cholesterol levels dropped to those of a 25-30 year-old, and he no longer had to take his prescription for Lipitor.
Today, six years later, Hom says he feels "like a normal person." He's since traveled overseas to Egypt, Spain and the Czech Republic. While he still exercises and watches what he eats to keep his diabetes in check, Hom says he feels like he's in better shape than he was 10 years ago.
Hom just celebrated his 75th birthday, and his kidney transplant hasn't slowed him down. Next year, he's traveling to Peru with his wife and 15 friends — one of two groups that he's traveled with for the past decade. The trip, which will involve hiking to altitudes of 9,000 to 12,000 feet, is forcing him to get in shape.
"It is so incredibly gratifying to hear how kidney transplantation has maximized not only Mr. Hom's quantity of life, but also his quality of life," said Feng. "He is truly maximizing the benefit that kidney transplantation has to offer. Freeing patients from dialysis really gives people back their freedom, as Mr. Hom is demonstrating with his traveling and his full lifestyle."
Written in August 2011
Kendra Mayfield is a freelance writer in San Francisco.