The Randelins have gift worth sharingThis Valentine’s Day had special meaning for Becky and Denny Randelin. It marked the one-year anniversary of the week Becky gave Denny the ultimate Valentine’s gift – a new kidney. The Randelins’ love story began long before that, however.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
This Valentine’s Day had special meaning for Becky and Denny Randelin. It marked the one-year anniversary of the week Becky gave Denny the ultimate Valentine’s gift – a new kidney.
The Randelins’ love story began long before that, however.
Denny grew up in Cloquet, graduated from Cloquet High School and has lived in this area all his life. He worked with the Cloquet Police Department for 29 years.
His first wife of 23 years, Alice, died of cancer in 1983.
A couple of years later, he met Becky.
Becky grew up in Hermantown and was working at Potlatch and waitressing at the Golden Gate Restaurant at the time.
“That’s where I met Denny,” she said. “I embarrassed myself really good one night. I was looking around for him because he was always fun to chat with. I kept peeking around the divider in the restaurant, and finally the hostess said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ I said, ‘Denny Randelin,’ and started gushing about how cool I thought he was. So finally this gal told me, ‘He’s on a fishing trip. He won’t be home for a few days.’ I asked her, ‘How do you know?’ and she said, ‘He’s my dad!’”
“My daughter couldn’t wait to tell me, ‘There’s a lady down at the Gate who’s got the hots for you!’” said Denny with a chuckle.
Their first date was on July 1, 1987, and the two were married three months later and moved into a house in Carlton.
“And now we’re going on 24 years!” Denny added proudly. “She is the love of my life. There are no two ways about it.”
“We’ve always had so much fun together,” added Becky. “Denny’s sister once said, ‘You guys are soul mates!’ but I had never thought of us as soul mates, because in my mind soul mates are people who get along perfectly. We don’t get along perfectly because we’re both similar personality types – real go getters.”
At the time the two were married, Denny had already suffered his first heart attack – 60 days after his first wife died. Then, in 1993, he had another one. He learned he was suffering from congestive heart failure and that he’d have to either go on light duty or get out of police work altogether or the stress of the job could further jeopardize his health.
“There’s no light duty in a small police department,” said Denny.
After a month of doing office work, he decided to retire. He was 53 at the time.
“He tried hunting and fishing and playing golf for a couple of years and got bored, so that’s when he ran for mayor of Carlton,” said Becky.
Denny also joined Rotary, became part of the Carlton Development Corporation, continued to review occasional criminal cases for the police and sheriff’s departments and started feeling pretty good.
“I threw my heart into Rotary, became treasurer and ran the Junior Rotarian and scholarship programs,” said Denny. “There are a lot of good people in that group – and I got a lot of good support from them.”
Denny’s health continued to be an issue, however.
“My problem with congestive heart failure comes from the fact that I have a diastolic blood pressure malfunction,” explained Denny. “When my heart fills, it fills really slowly. Then it pumps out the blood when it’s only 40 percent full, so I don’t have good circulation.”
The kidneys depend on that pressure, and Denny’s poor circulation – along with the fact he’s had 28 stents put in – eventually caused his kidneys to begin to fail.
“Kidneys are judged by creatinine,” he explained. “Most people’s creatinine levels are around 1.0, and in the summer of 2009, mine began to climb into the 2s and 3s.”
Denny’s cardiologist and kidney specialist were very reluctant to put him on dialysis, however, because they thought it might create too much stress on his heart.
As soon as his kidneys began failing, he began bloating and his weight went up to over 300 pounds.
“I saw Dr. [Mike] Maddy [of Essentia Health Care in Duluth] and he told me I was dying,” said Denny. “He told me I needed to get down to Hennepin County Medical Center and talk about a kidney transplant.”
Denny and Becky went through a half-day educational session on transplants and learned all of the risks and the odds.
“One of their big things they wanted to stress was whether we understood we were high risk and Denny might not come out of this,” said Becky. “The other half of it was they had to meet as a team and decide if they wanted to take on such a high-risk patient. They met and decided to take us on.”
When the call went out for donors among Denny’s friends and family, the response was overwhelming. They had five good matches in short order.
“I had my brother, oldest daughter, oldest granddaughter, Kirk Johnson from Carlton – and Becky.”
Becky turned out to be the best match.
“I threw my hat in the ring and never looked back,” said Becky.
Denny said the two of them felt they had the hand of God on their side. Before they even knew about his kidney problems, they’d decided to sell their house in Carlton and downsize to a cottage at Evergreen Knoll in Cloquet. But there was more….
“That was last January and originally they had me set to go in for a transplant in March, but Dr. Maddy said I’d never make it until then,” related Denny. “He told me if I wasn’t able to get the transplant before then, they’d have to risk putting me on dialysis.”
Becky decided to take matters into her own hands and called the donor nurse at Hennepin County.
“I just wanted her to know that if something earlier came up, Denny and I were ready to pull out all the stops and make it happen,” said Becky.
As it turned out, something did, indeed, open up and in just a little over a week’s time, Becky had to arrange to get off work, pack up the house and make all the arrangements, plus go down to the Cities twice for pre-transplant physicals.
By the time the two arrived at Hennepin County Medical Center, Denny’s weight had ballooned up to 311 pounds and his creatinine level was at 6.9.
“My kidneys were shot, they were gone,” he said. “There was no more kidney function at all.”
They went to the Twin Cities the night before the transplant in the midst of a snowstorm, spent the night at Denny’s sister’s house and went in to the hospital early the next morning.
“The whole family came in to the pre-op area and I was nervous as a cat,” related Becky, “so I whispered to our daughter Sherry, ‘Could you ask everybody to leave?’ Everyone wondered if I was afraid of the surgery, but it was because I was nervous about Denny. For me, the surgery was very low risk, but for him, it was another story. I walked laps around the floor after that, because that was my way to calm down.”
In the meantime, Denny was on heart monitors and IVs.
“I wasn’t scared because I was so sick,” said Denny. “I figured I couldn’t get any worse.”
The transplant team included two kidney surgeons ready to work on Becky and two to work on Denny in separate operating rooms. Becky was in the operating room for a couple of hours, but Denny was in surgery for five.
When Denny came out of it, he was feeling OK in the ICU, but around 8 p.m. that night he had a heart attack. Though he didn’t sustain any heart damage from it, he did have to undergo a procedure to put in two more stents.
“Just before going in for the heart thing, I was kind of at a low,” admitted Denny. “I was lying there and said, ‘You know, God, I just can’t do this anymore. You need to drive the bus and let me ride along. I just can’t drive it anymore.’ A couple of minutes later I started feeling better. Now, God’s the one driving the bus – I just wish he wouldn’t hit so many chuckholes!” he added with a grin.
As for Becky, she said though she slept more than usual for a short time after having her kidney removed, she started walking in full strides after about 10 days and climbing up and down stairs, thanks to the help and assistance of their family.
“The support that we got from my fellow Rotarians, our family, the people at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Carlton, Kirk and Rita Johnson and Pat and Marv Durkee – it was just tremendous,” said Denny. “It really helped.”
There were other setbacks ahead, however. Denny got an impacted colon after starting on the anti-rejection drugs and had to have surgery to unblock it, and later he got very sick once again and found he had contracted the CMV virus, which causes severe ulcers.
The two returned home to Cloquet after three months, but last June Denny began suffering from repeated incidents of bacterial infections. Doctors decided to infuse him with antibiotics for a sustained period of time, and he was able to go to Community Memorial Hospital for the infusion treatments. He went for an hour every day, including weekends and holidays, from June through October before testing negative for any further signs of infection.
“They told us that after my transplant, the next year could be hell because I am a high-risk patient and therefore I would be susceptible to a lot of things,” said Denny. “But they told me there was a light at the end of the tunnel if I could make it through the first year – and it was a year on Feb. 9.”
Denny is due to go to Hennepin County Medical Center next week for his one-year physical and he will go in to see Dr. Maddy, his internal medicine doctor, this Friday for another as well.
“They keep pretty good tabs on me,” Denny said. “The kidney is working fine – it’s the rest of my body that’s gone to hell!”
Right now Denny’s heart and kidney are balancing along a fine line because the transplant operation stressed his heart a lot. Kidneys need fluids to operate, but he’s got fluid on his heart pretty consistently and they need to find a balance that keeps the kidney happy and functioning as well as the heart.
Denny will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life, and he now takes 63 pills a day between heart, kidney and the other health issues he’s dealing with. The drugs have also taken their toll in the form of brittle bones and fragile infrastructure, and he recently severed a tendon that has made it difficult to get around.
Becky, a senior analyst for the Maurice’s Corporation for the past 20 years, spends much of her time helping take care of Denny and is going to school to get a degree in exercise physiology as well.
“Becky has just been a godsend,” said Denny. “She’s the love of my life and my rock. There’s no way I could do this without her. I’m here because of her.”
Becky and Denny remain matter-of-fact about the time left ahead of them.
“One of the things the doctors told me,” said Denny, “is, ‘You’ve got this balance to maintain and a lot of risky problems, but you’ve got to stop worrying about those and go on and enjoy life. Whatever happens is going to happen.”
In the meantime, the love between the two of them remains strong, and Denny has a battery-powered scooter and a van with a lift on it to help him get around.
“There’s no place I can’t go!” he declared with a smile.