The last time the Daily Journal checked in on Harold Weems was May 19, 2021, when he was still waiting for a donated kidney to save his life.
Originally from Bonne Terre, Harold and his wife moved to Farmington in 1972. The Weems family used to own the Western Auto store in Bonne Terre, but it closed in 1993. Up until then, Harold had commuted between Farmington and Bonne Terre to save driving time for his wife, Carri, who was a beautician in town.
For a man who had been in ill health for years — he had suffered a serious stroke that left his left side paralyzed in November 1996 — Harold was in remarkable health and had an incredibly positive attitude for a man 69 years old who was in desperate need of a kidney transplant.
Harold recalled the warning he received from his physician, Dr. Forsythe, about another health problem he was likely to encounter in the years ahead.
“Every year, we did certain tests, and he said, ‘Harold, with high blood pressure and blood pressure medicine like you’re on to control your blood pressure, we’ve got to watch your kidneys. This started 25 years ago. He told me that one of these days, my kidneys could start to fail. Well, 25 years later, my kidneys started to fail.”
Harold’s kidney function continued to decline for some time until he realized in late 2019 that further action would be required. His new doctor, nephrologist Dr. Derek Larson, considered him an excellent candidate for a kidney transplant and placed Harold on the transplant list before he and Carri left his office to head home to Farmington.
“I was already on dialysis Monday, Wednesday and Friday at DaVita in Farmington,” Harold said. “I never had a bad day. I know that dialysis is hard on some people, but they weren’t for me. I’d come home and mow the grass. Nothing got me down. In July or August of this year, Dr. Larson came to me one day and said, “Harold, I think you would be a prime candidate for home dialysis.
“I said, ‘Doctor, you haven’t steered me wrong yet. What is it?’ He said, ‘Well, Google it.’ There’s a little ditty you can watch online. Here was a man and a woman just like me and Carri. They kinda talked about their experience with home dialysis. We both saw it, and we said, ‘Well, this can’t be too difficult,’ but you have to be careful because this is sterilization. Dr. Larson told us we wouldn’t be able to train here. We’d have to go to Festus.”
Still undergoing regular dialysis at DaVita, the couple was now traveling to Festus for training in performing home dialysis.
“We both did the training, Harold said. “The lady who was training us said, ‘Listen, I’m going to train you the best way I can. Carri, if something happens, you need to know everything that is going on and the importance of what is happening. Just like Harold does.’ So, we went through this training and one day, I would unhook, and the next day, Carri would hook me up. We had a cheat sheet, as I call it, and you just followed it. It told us the importance of keeping your hands clean, and keeping your mask on. ‘Do you have pets in the house?’ ‘No.’ ‘Good, you’re fine.’ Keeping your house clean. Well, our house is clean.”
Harold began home dialysis on Oct. 5, 2021.
“Everything was rolling good,” he said. “You have an on-call nurse. Now, you have to pick your battles a little bit. You’ve got nine hours, so if you have to do something a little early in the morning, you might need to hook up a little earlier in the evening. We had a TV in the room, so I would go in, stretch out, hook up, watch TV, fall asleep, get up the next morning, unhook and go about our business.
“The whole time our daughter is saying, ‘You need to venture out one time and just try being away from home sometime because you’re going to be planning to go to Warrensburg to watch Jacob play ball. You’ve got to do a trial run. Come up to the house in St. Peters. So, we loaded up our stuff, drove up and spent the night. Everything went off like clockwork. Then we came back home. If we got to go to Warrensburg to watch Jacob play ball, I would tell Brenda at DaVita. She said, ‘I’ll call the nurse closest to you up there, and she’ll be your on-call nurse while you’re in Warrensburg.’”
A week before Mother’s Day, the Weems were contacted by friends from Texas that they were traveling to Granite City to visit a family friend and wanted to see them too.
“I said, ‘Hey, great!’ So, they came by Tuesday evening and spent all day Wednesday and then they left out Wednesday morning. We had a great time.”
The couple went to bed but was awakened at 2:20 a.m. by a call on Harold’s cell phone.
“It sounded like the voice of an angel,” he recalled. “’Hello, this is Darla from Barnes Hospital. We have your kidney.’ I’m standing there looking at my dresser, and I turned. Carri was sitting up in bed wondering about what the phone call is. Someone asked me, ‘Did you expect that to be Barnes?’ No. I was asleep, and all I was wondering was, who’s calling? I looked over, and I said, ‘Oh, my gosh! They’ve got me a kidney!’ I turned back around, and I was talking to her as she was getting up to get our two bags that have been packed for two years and sets them on the floor.
“She says, ‘I’m going to go down and take a shower.’ Me and Darla kinda make a plan. We’re going to be there by 5:30. Darla said, ‘You need to call your nurse and let her help you unhook.’ I said, ‘No, I think I can do this.’ She said, ‘No, you call your nurse. You let her walk you through unhooking.’”
Harold called his on-call nurse and gave her the news that there was a kidney waiting for him at Barnes Medical Center.
“Now, she got excited,” Harold said. “Before I forget it now, I’m secondary. I’m not primary, I’m secondary. That means I was second on the list. I didn’t know how many were on that list, but I knew I was second.
“We get ready. I unhook, make the bed and get in the car. It’s sprinkling, and by the time I got to Highway 67, it wasn’t sprinkling. It was pouring. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. There was no one on the road for me to follow.”
Driving 35 mph, Carri reached over, patted Harold’s leg, and told him to slow down.
“I said, ‘Honey if I drive any slower, the windshield wipers are going to be going faster than we are.’ But we just moved up the road, and we got to swing on 55 up there at Festus. You know that’s hard to turn when it’s dry. It’s pouring. At 4:20, my phone rings — and, of course, I’m on Bluetooth — it says Barnes. I hit it, and this little voice comes back on again like an angel. She says, ‘Harold, are you still on your way?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ She said, ‘Well, you’re not secondary anymore — you’re primary.’ We both lost it for a second, and I said, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve got to keep going here.’
“We get on the road, and now there’s a little more traffic, so I can kinda get lines, and I can get taillights. We just motored right on up, right into Barnes Hospital. We pulled in on the parking lot. There was a spot right by the door. We get out, grab our bags, start over the walk, and get to the end. I said, ‘I’m Harold Weems, and I’m here for a kidney transplant.’ The person said, ‘Go right down there.’ We went and sat down, and they started typing. “There’ll be someone here in just a minute.’ It seemed like no time until I was in a wheelchair headed upstairs. By that time, it’s getting around 6:30, and our daughter is there by that time.”
Meanwhile, the hospital personnel is having problems with the computer and tells Harold there would be a slight delay in drawing his blood because the labels weren’t coming out of the printer.
“We’re just laying there relaxing and talking,” Harold said. “About that time, she said, ‘OK, it’s about time to draw your blood. So, she drew the blood — and, of course, they’re coming in and out. It seemed like not very long before along comes a guy, and he says, ‘OK, we’re going to take you downstairs.’ I was sitting there with my shoes off. Carri said, ‘Does he need to put on a gown?’ The guy said, ‘Yeah!’ What I’m trying to say is that there were no bumps in the road. Everything was just moving forward. We didn’t know what to expect because we’d never done this before, but everybody was just so nice.
“We get ready to go, and Carri says, ‘Now, do we need to take all of our stuff?’ The guy asks, ‘What do you guys plan on doing?’ Carri looked at him and said, ‘I’m not leaving his side.’ He said, ‘Well, just come with me. Throw those bags up on the bed, and let’s go!’ They loaded me up, and downstairs we went. We got into pre-op. A little gal came, and they started hooking me up to IVs and all this kind of stuff. They gave me this little headgear, and I said, ‘Guys, I’m not taking a shower!’ We’re sitting there talking, and everything keeps inching forward. The doctor comes out and says, ‘Harold, sometimes this can be a long decision, but as soon as we know anything, I’ll come and tell you.’”
At 10:20 a.m., the doctor reentered the room and grabbed hold of Harold’s toe.
He said, “We’re on, buddy. It’s going to be just a few minutes. The satellites have all linked up. You’re go. You’re a match.”
Harold recalled, “Finally they came and got me. Of course, we said — not our goodbyes because I don’t like that word “goodbye” — but we all hugged and kissed and out the door I went. He rolled me down, and we roll into the operating room. He asked if I was going to be able to roll over on the operating table. I said, ‘Sure!’ I looked over, and there was a brown tackle box, a toolbox, with a tan lid with two snaps and a handle. I looked at him and asked, ‘Is that my kidney?’ He said, ‘Yes, it is.’ I said, ‘OK, I’m ready to move over.’ When I moved over and laid my head back, I looked at the clock, and it was 12:20. So, 2:20, 4:20, 10:20, 12:20 — and it’s May 6, 2022.
“I go through the operation, get back in recovery, I wake up and it’s about 6 o’clock. Jacob’s playing ball. I’m listening to the ballgame. Of course, nurses are coming in to check on me. Now, one of the last things the doctor told me before the surgery was that he might have to put my port back in because, if the kidney doesn’t jumpstart real quick, they might have to do it. When I woke up, I said, ‘Thank you, Lord, because there was no port.’ After surgery, the doctor comes in and said, ‘Pardner, the minute we hooked it up, it started pumping.’ They kept looking down the side of my bed saying, ‘liquid gold’ and taking pictures. I asked, ‘What is that? I can’t see.’ It was my catheter bag and it is a beautiful liquid gold. That’s good news because there was no blood in it. There’s no nothing in it. It’s clear.”
The couple, who are active members of Memorial United Methodist Church, received a call from their pastor, Ron Beaton.
“We talked about the 20s,” Harold said. “He said, ‘Harold, it sounds to me like the power of 20.’ I said, ‘That’s pretty powerful, isn’t it?’ He said, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ It just sorta’ stuck — all the 20s. Now, I’m not a big numbers guy, but those numbers just kind of hit me.”
By around midnight Friday night, the nurses were telling Harold he would be up in a chair by Saturday morning. At 6 the next morning, they were moving him out of bed and into a chair. At 7 a.m., two physical therapists entered the room and soon Harold was walking — for a little while with a walker — but after he proved that he would be able to make the step into the couple’s home, the walker was removed, and Harold walked without any aid.
On Sunday evening, Harold’s doctor came by and told Harold that he would be going home the following day.
“The doctor said, ‘Get some rest because tomorrow is going to be a busy day. You’re going to have a lot of people coming and going.’ At 4 o’clock were headed down the hall, bags packed. Carri goes and gets the car, the nurse helps me in the car, and we’re on our way home. By 6 o’clock, I’m sitting here in the reclining chair.”
Six months later, Harold is doing great. He’s started doing water aerobics again at the Farmington Recreation Center, and he has no side effects.
He’s made contact with the donor’s family — no names or cities involved — and hopes that someday he’ll be able to meet them. As life has so quickly returned to normal, Harold and Carri want more than anything for people to realize that this has always been in God’s hands, and they consider Harold’s rapid recovery to be nothing less than a miracle.
Carri said that one verse has been very important to the couple during the time they waited for Harold’s kidney transplant.
“It’s Isaiah 40:31, she said. ‘But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint.’
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-783-9667 or firstname.lastname@example.org