It is going to be difficult to top West Schomer in the gift giving department this holiday season.
Next week, the exhibit and design technician at the University of Nebraska State Museum will donate a kidney to longtime friend and brother-in-law Dustin Curry. If you ask, West will say the gift is really no big deal — the “very least he could do.” In fact, when he considers the history of the friendship, from meeting on a church mission trip as teenagers to marrying sisters, the donation feels almost preordained.
“Our friendship has been a pretty odd trip overall,” West said. “When I applied to be a donor, it just felt inevitable.
“I figured why not — he’s my brother in law, he’s my friend and I like the guy.”
As teens, Dustin (who is almost two years older) would rumble up to West’s house in a “crappy” vehicle — sometimes a truck, other times in a muscle car. The friendship worried West’s parents who fretted about potential influences that the older, boisterous boy was having on their reserved son.
“Dustin was never a bad kid, he was just a little bit of a terror,” West said. “At first, my parents rolled their eyes about our friendship. But they realized it was a good thing.
“My mom laughed when I told her I was giving Dustin a kidney.”
After high school, the friends worked as furniture movers before West went off to school. Dustin got married, but they remained close through the years, getting together whenever possible. Their bond tightened nearly eight years ago when West started dating Mary Pike, the sister of Dustin’s wife, Cyndee.
Eight months later, West and Mary exchanged vows and the longtime friends became family.
“Suddenly we were seeing each other a few times every year,” West said. “That’s when we became super close.”
Through the donor testing process, Schomer has remained a strong match to be a donor for his friend. When Dustin’s hereditary kidney disease worsened earlier this year, a donation date was established — Nov. 19 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City.
The last year has been difficult for the family, with the deaths of West’s grandmother and Mary and Cyndee’s father, Ron Pike, a longtime UNL employee who worked at the NU State Museum and Sheldon Museum of Art. Those losses led to some worried inquiries about the pending donation from West and Mary’s 12-year-old son.
“His first question was ‘can you die,’” West said. “I had to admit to him that there is a risk, but that it is about the same as the risk I face driving to work. I explained that the surgery will be done at a transplant clinic and they are experts at it. And, I said I wasn’t worrying about it so neither should he.
“He’s about as comfortable with it as a 12 year old can be.”
West’s surgery itself will take between three to five hours. He will remain in the hospital for up to nine days and won’t be able to lift anything that weighs more than 10 pounds for up to six weeks.
He’ll also have to return to Kansas City for two follow-up tests before transitioning to a family doctor in Lincoln.
“My goal is to come back to work in about three weeks,” West said. “Luckily, we have a pretty good benefits system here at the university and I’ve accumulated enough sick leave to take all six weeks if necessary.”
After the surgery, West’s remaining kidney will function at about 50 percent of his body’s need. Over time, it will increase in size and expand its function to about 80 percent.
“I’ll have to pay attention to my diet more and it means no more contact sports for me — which really isn’t going to be a problem,” West said. “It’s just a minor thing.
“I have two kidneys. He needs one. When everything is complete, we’ll both be able to function pretty much normally. That’s what really matters.”
Editor’s Note — “One of U” is a regular UNL Today series featuring the on- and off-campus interests and activities of UNL faculty and staff. Submit “One of U” story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.