Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hello! And thank you for checking out the blog. If this is your first time here, please start at the beginning by clicking this link ---->

And I love you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Justin... words are not enough to express the gratitude for what you have given me. I mourn the loss of your life while embracing the rebirth of my own. Your family has been so good to me, and not a day goes by that I don't think of you. Thank you for being an organ donor. You have helped so many people and you have changed my life.

Pamela Vehar, Cam Vehar, Jake Cordova, Paul Vehar
08/27/2011 at Library Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

On August 27th, 2011 the downtown Salt Lake City Library unveiled a glass wall monument honoring organ donors, living and deceased who donated organs during the past year. More than 400 names were added, including Justin's. His mother Pamela and his father Paul invited me to join them for the unveiling, and I couldn't pass it up.

It was crowded. There was a mix of people, young and old standing in the southeast corner of the lawn. We heard people talk on a microphone about the experience of being an organ recipient, as well as people talk about the importance of organ donation. Someone pointed out a little girl, about 3 years old who had received a liver transplant. She wore a billowy dress and was playing near the water, a big warm smile on her face. She looked as happy and healthy as any other kid her age. She was loving the day.

Organ donation really is the coolest thing a person can do. It saves lives, it changes lives... And it is the very definition of unselfishness.

Because of organ donation, everything I ever knew about being alive changed last year on this day. My life has escalated into an upward whirlwind of adventure and possibilities. I embrace the change, I almost crave it. I find pleasure in just opening my eyes each morning. It's the little things, you know? Food tastes better, the sky always looks incredible, the wind seems to always feel refreshing against my face. It's great! I want to fully embrace my existence as a non-diabetic and rock the hell out of it in the best way I can. So that's exactly what I'm doing and it's a really good thing. I'm just happy to be here.

This has been the greatest 12 months of my life and it will only get better.

Thank you for sharing my journey. It has been fun writing this blog and sharing the experience. I have met a lot of great people and heard some incredible life-changing stories.

I love you guys!

In honor of Justin Patrick Vehar.
10/28/1988 - 8/31/2010

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fistula Undoing

Chris drove me once again to the IMC hospital early Wednesday morning on March 30, 2011 where I was scheduled to have my dialysis fistula tied off at 5:30am.

I beamed as I laid in bed after multiple hospital staff had come in to set I.V.'s, ask me questions, explain the procedure, etc.

"This is why I love hospitals so much!" I said to Chris, who gave me a no-nonsense look. "Because I get to talk to so many people. I am charged!"

A few weeks prior, I had discovered from several different online personality tests that I am known as an "extreme extrovert," which means when I talk to new people or find myself in large crowds, my batteries get charged. And it's true! I really do feel an energy boost from socializing. On the other hand, I learned that introverts can be just as social, however they need to be alone with their thoughts to recharge their batteries.

"Do you see a difference?" I asked Chris (she is a more balanced social introvert). "Can you tell how energized I am after talking with all of those people?" I could feel insurmountable joy bursting from within. The natural dopamine in an extroverts brain increases with social interaction. It's like a drug.

"You're always like this," she said, smiling.



I was so wound up and free-flowing that I conversed with Dr. Wirthlin and his assistants through the entire surgical process. A local anesthetic was used, so I was in a sort of dreamy conscious state. As I lay there in a twilight haze, I felt the veins in my left inner elbow being pulled and moved.

"I can feel that," I said.

"That's because we're tying off the vein, but we're almost done." 

I lay there for a couple of minutes and then a surge of electricity shot through my entire left arm.

"Ahhhhh! What is that?"

"Christopher," came a female voice from Dr. Wirthlin's assistant, "we are cauterizing a vein with an electrical knife. Sometimes the current will spread through the veins."

A male voice chuckled from behind me and said, "I don't think you have to tell him that." I laughed and so did everybody in the room.

A few more minutes went by and the female voice said, "Christopher, we are going to cauterize again so you might feel this."



"Are you OK?"

"Yeah, it's not so bad when you know it's coming."

When I saw Dr. Wirthlin in his office a couple of weeks before the surgery, he explained the process: Basically, they would tie off the fistula so no more blood would rush through it, thus rendering the vein useless. It's not as bad as it sounds because the vein was pumping as much blood as an artery so it wasn't really a vein anymore. Instead, it was a portal for dialysis, which I don't need. He also explained that the large bulge a few inches below my fistula (a hematoma) would never go down on its own, and in fact it could grow bigger! So he planned to remove as much of it as he could during the procedure.

As I lay on the table in the surgery room, I heard some muffled discussion that went like this:

"Wow, look at that!"

"That is big."

"Hold on, I want to take a picture."

"Set it there, yeah. No... right there, yeah. Like that."

"Look at that."


"Look at the size of that thing!"

"Christopher, do you want to see what we pulled out of your arm?"

ME: "Yeah, I wanna see!"

Dr. Wirthlin walked around the back of my head and held up a bright red glistening glob.

"That was in my arm?" I asked.

"It was, but not anymore. Look at that."

"I would love to take that to work in a glass jar to freak everybody out. Ha ha. Can I keep it?"

Dr. Wirthlin laughed nervously... He didn't know if I was joking.

"I'm just kidding, but it would be cool to have it on display at home."

Click on the image to see a more detailed version.

The throbbing is gone. The lump in my arm is gone, and after the scar completely heals there will hardly be any trace of where my dialysis fistula used to be. It's been 7 and a half months since the transplant and each day continues to get better.

What can I say? Life is good.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

6 Month Anniversary

Today is the 6 month anniversary of my Kidney-Pancreas Transplant. It has been a time of change, a time of healing and a time of infinite possibilities! I can’t help being optimistic because that’s how I’ve always been, however Chris and I had a conversation the other night about the ups and downs of kidney failure. It’s amazing to think about everything we’ve gone through…

CHRIS: “Sometimes when I hear myself talking to people about the past year, it makes me stop and wonder how we did it. Diabetes, kidney failure, dialysis, and a transplant… all of it, you know? Like, how did we get through everything without breaking down?”

JAKE: “Well, because we had to.”

CHRIS: “Yes, and we did it. We worked together to make everything go as smoothly as possible. Over time, you and I have developed a good way of dealing with things, haven’t we? I guess it’s true when they say people don’t know what they’re capable of until they try.”

JAKE: “That’s how we roll.”

There is no doubt in my mind that if it were not for Chris, I would have died from diabetic complications at some point in 2010. She has saved my life more than I can count, and even now she continues to be my greatest source of strength, advice and compassion. She is the first person I turn to when I need anything and she has never shied away from offering her honest opinion when it is asked.

Nowadays I catch myself thinking about how dire kidney failure is. Being on dialysis really isn’t fun, and even though there may be a time in the future where I find myself hooked up to a machine again, I can’t help but remember the dialysis experience as a far-away blurred vision, like a bad dream. Sprinkle Type-1 diabetes into the mix, and it just seems crazy. I have become so easily accustomed to NOT being diabetic or having kidney failure, that it almost seems like I never had them at all. I suppose it is a testament to modern-day technology and the will to live.

But what are the cons of a transplant? Within the past few weeks, I’ve developed horrible acne on my forehead. At first, I thought it was because of a certain shampoo I was using, so I switched brands but the acne seemed to get worse. I did some research online and discovered an amazing cream called ZAPZYT that contains 10% benzoyl peroxide. It seems to be working, but I have to apply it several times a day, every day, along with Salicylic Acid astringent and face wash. I talked to Dr. Cline about it last Friday and he said, “Ah, this is a classic symptom of anti-rejection drugs.” So he prescribed a few other topical creams.

While I was there, I showed him how powerful the fistula was in my left arm and asked when I could expect to do something about it. He said that generally he likes patients to wait at least 6 months out from surgery before having it undone, to which I replied, “So, I can call Dr. Wirthlin next week?” He nodded. YES!!

6 months is a good indicator of how successful the transplant is. By now, the theory is that my body is fully recovered from surgery and if there were any warning signs of rejection, they would most likely have shown themselves. Of course, organs can reject at any time, and technically the doctors keep a close watch on things for the first 2 years, but so far my numbers have been perfect and I feel incredible. There are no doubts in my mind that the new kidney and pancreas are going to last me a very long time. In the far away future, if and when the organs expire, I will be ready for another K/P transplant with spirits high and eagerness aplenty! The pros still outweigh the cons by a landslide, and I don’t think there is really anything I wouldn’t do to stay feeling this good. It is incredible.

I have met a few more people on Facebook who are expecting “the call” any day now. It brings back memories. I am always excited to learn about someone who is on dialysis and has been diabetic for most of their life, waiting to get a transplant. They are in for an incredible transformation. It is unreal. It is amazing!

If you are pre or post a K/P transplant of your own, or if you are a friend or family member of somebody who is, or even a caregiver, please join the “Kidney Pancreas Transplant Group” on Facebook. I created it over the weekend so we can share our stories, ask questions and help each other out. Everybody experiences these things differently, so join our group to share your experience.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pinch Me

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of my first kidney dialysis treatment. Looking back, it seems like a dream. I’ve come a long way in 365 days and I still find myself wondering if it’s real. Has the disease I’ve known for most of my life really gone away? Is it really possible that I feel this good and have this much energy? I half-expect to wake up and find myself sitting in the brown leathery reclining chair at South Mountain Dialysis, hearing the beep of the machine with a nurse standing over me asking if I’m OK.

Truth be told, I am more than OK. In fact, I feel brand new!

The fistula in my left arm is still working like a champ. If I wear short sleeves, people sometimes notice the small bulges near my inner elbow and ask, “Are you getting that removed?” But there is nothing to remove. The vein running through my bicep was attached to my artery so now it pulses with the same amount of blood as an artery. There is nothing artificial in there to 'take out.' So it is what it is.

A couple of weeks ago I started feeling movement in the lower left side of my stomach, where the new kidney sits. Every so often, it felt like liquid, or air, or something was being pushed through the kidney. It didn’t hurt, and I wasn’t convinced I needed medical attention, so I didn’t worry... Until the next day when the movement continued.

I called the Transplant center and spoke with Stephanie. She said it might be some fluid build-up and told me to call Dr. Cline because he will probably want an ultrasound done. I called him and we set an appointment at Alta View Hospital for Saturday afternoon. To be clear, I had no symptoms of kidney failure. I didn’t feel sick, have a fever, or have the chills. I was still making urine just fine and I wasn’t in pain, but the strange feeling of motion just didn’t feel normal.

At this point, I think it's safe to say I’ve had more ultrasounds than a pregnant woman.

During the process, I asked the technician if he saw anything noticeably worrisome. I explained that I know he’s supposed to tell me to check with my doctor, but I knew they were looking for abnormal fluid or obstructions. He said everything looked OK to him, but he was going to have a doc take a look at the images as soon as they were captured. Just then, the movement happened.

“Hey! It’s happening right now.”

“Yeah, I felt something there. It kind of felt like gas.” We chuckled.

“Did anything show up on the screen?”

“Let me check… No, nothing there.”

Before we left, a doctor looked over the images from the ultrasound and gave us the OK to go home. He said nothing looked abnormal or worrisome, but advised me to check with Dr. Cline on Monday. When I spoke with Dr. Cline, we determined it was either gas or build up in the intestines. You see, the kidney is placed down there, sort of nestled against the lower intestinal walls so any major blockage or bad gas could sort of jumble things around. Dr. Cline advised me to make sure I don’t get constipated, and if for some reason I felt backed-up or I wasn’t evacuating my bowels, to take proper action to make it happen. It’s crazy to think about, but that’s the world of transplants. Proper bowel movements = proper health. Ha ha.

Marcia, a woman from Texas who celebrated her kidney-pancreas transplant anniversary on February 3rd, talked to me in a Facebook chat. We discussed how amazing it is to feel so different now, so healthy and alive and better. She said she still pinches herself everyday to make sure she isn’t dreaming. There are things she wants to do now that she didn’t do when she was younger, and boy, do I know the feeling.

I lay awake in bed at night for hours thinking of all the possibilities life has to offer. I am 35 years old, which is relatively young and I know there is still plenty of time to enjoy life and to be adventurous and to have as much fun as possible. The trouble is, some of my friends already partied hard when they were in their 20’s and now they have kids and are thinking along different terms. It frustrates me, because for the first time in my life, I don’t have to worry or even think about being diabetic. So I am ready to rock! The world looks different now, food tastes different, friendship has a new meaning, and life seems easier and more fulfilling. I suppose a year ago I was as close to death as I’ll ever be. Dialysis drained me for 7 months; diabetes drained me for 32 years. 32 YEARS! And now it’s gone. It’s completely gone. Just like that.

How can I possibly put into words how it feels? Imagine if all of the sudden at the age of 35 you could fly. Any time you wanted, you could just lift off the ground and fly anywhere you desired. You never knew what it felt like because your world never gave you the option of flight. And for most of your life, you didn’t think you would EVER be able to fly, but NOW YOU CAN FLY! So what are you going to do? You’re probably going to fly as high as you can, as much as you can, to every place you can imagine simply because all of the sudden YOU CAN FLY!

Chris asked me if I was going through a mid life crisis. I laughed and told her I suppose it’s something like that, but not really. It’s like my view of life has shifted slightly. I still see most things in the same way, but some things are entirely different. There are new and exciting possibilities everywhere I look. Life is golden, and I want to grab it and carry it with me before it's over.

I am lucky to have this opportunity and I am grateful to be alive. I will not take anything for granted ever again. We only have one life. This is not a rehearsal. This is the real deal.

This is it.

*2011, Year of the Golden Rabbit
Not many people know that the Rabbit is the symbol of the Moon, while the Peacock is the symbol of the Sun, and that together, these two animal signs signify the start of day and night, represent the Yin and Yang of life. It is said that anyone making supplications for wishes to be fulfilled are certain to get what they want... and in the Year of the Rabbit, the wish-granting aspect of the Sun and the Moon combined is multiplied. The Moon is YIN and this is the Yin of Heaven, signifying magic. Thus on each of the Full Moon nights of this year, go out into your garden to gaze into the Full Moon and visualize plenty of Moon dust and Moon glow flowing into you, filling your whole body with bright white light and granting you fearlessness, love and courage. This will not only strengthen your inner "Chi" energy, it will also bring wisdom into your life.