A gift given gives Walter many more Father’s Days
CUTLINE: Nearly a year ago, Decorah’s Darrin Walter celebrated his 40th birthday while still on the waiting list for a kidney and pancreas transplant. The call he and his family had been waiting for came in mid-December, and now the 1990 Decorah High School graduate will enjoy this and many more Father’s Days with his daughters, Kayla (l) and Kaitlyn. (submitted photo)
A gift given gives Walter many more Father’s Days
It might have been a Christmas gift from someone he never met, but Decorah’s Darrin Walter will be eternally grateful for every Father’s Day he spends with his daughters Kayla and Kaitlyn.
At 41, Darrin had been battling complications from Type 1 diabetes for over half his life and waited for three years for the phone call that would change is life to come.
An early diagnosis
“It was the weirdest thing. I was only 12 and I had a cold sore that lasted three months, which broke down my immune system. It was called Virus No. 3 and resulted in diabetes,” said the 1990 Decorah High School graduate.
It was Aug. 24, his brother Dan’s birthday, when Darrin’s parents, Erlin and Wanda, took him to the doctors.
“I was at a point where I could actually drink a glass of water and go to the bathroom at the same time. My parents couldn’t handle it anymore,” explained Walter.
Local doctors drew the youth’s blood and had it tested. When the results returned with a blood sugar level of 701, the family was sent immediately to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Normal blood sugars range from 65 to 80.
From the beginning Darrin was insulin-dependent and spent the first 16 years giving himself a shot four or five times per day.
“It was very beneficial for me as a teenager, because I was involved in many activities through high school, including football,” recalled Walter.
To keep sugar levels even, Darrin ate the same lunch every day while in junior high and high school — 12 carrot sticks, 24 grapes, 10 animal crackers, milk, and a bologna and cheese sandwich.
Doctoring at both Mayo and Gundersen Lutheran for scheduling purposes, Walter was a pioneer in the treatment of diabetes as the first patient to utilize a sliding scale for injections.
By 2009, however, Walter’s health had deteriorated to the point where he was placed on a transplant waiting list for a kidney and pancreas.
“At first, I thought to myself, ‘Really? Me?’” said Darrin. “Then I asked myself how much longer I thought I would live the way it was.”
After staying close to home for two years, it was an evening like any other. Darrin had just finished grocery shopping for the week and was about to sit down and enjoy a movie and big bowl of popcorn on Saturday, Dec. 8, when the phone rang at 10 p.m.
“It was Mayo calling to make sure I was home and ready. They believed they were going to have the organs, and they said they would get back to me by 2 a.m. I immediately called my brother, parents, and a few close friends,” said Darrin.
He also called his ex-wife, Annette, because he wanted to see his daughters before heading into surgery.
But the 2 a.m. phone call never came.
“I waited until 2:30 and then called them and was informed by the nurse that the surgeons were waiting to see if the organs would arrive due to blizzard conditions,” recalled Walter of the conversation.
It was 5 a.m. when the anxious father of two received the call he had waited all night for and began to make the trek to Rochester.
“We arrived shortly after 6 a.m., and I was ushered up to the 10th floor to be prepped. At 9:47 a.m. I was on my way into the operating room,” Darrin said.
He remembers asking the surgeon how many years he had been doing transplants and was put at ease when the response was 23 years.
“Then he told me to go ahead and pray because he does before every surgery,” recalled the transplant recipient. He also remembers hearing the surgeon hum the theme song to “M*A*S*H” on the way back to the first-floor operating room.
The 19-member transplant team was ready for the procedure that was expected to take up to eight hours, but thanks to a positive attitude and an otherwise healthy body, Darrin was out of surgery in less than five hours.
Four hours after getting rolled out of the operating room, Darrin was already on his feet and walking on the doctors’ orders.
After a week in the hospital, Darrin was discharged but had to remain in Rochester for recovery. He was finally cleared to return home Dec. 28.
“None of my family had a problem changing Christmas this year. You never know when the phone call is going to come. But I lived it,” stated Darrin.
“I had lived with diabetes for 29 years. After being diagnosed on my brother’s birthday, I was clear of diabetes on my dad’s on Dec. 9. By getting a new pancreas, I was cured of diabetes,” explained Darrin.
Walter said one of the conditions of having a transplant is that the recipient is required to write a thank-you to the family of the donor.
“I must have written it 20 times, because there is no easy way to say thank you,” said Darrin. “The hardest part wasn’t that someone lost their life and ended up giving me a second chance, but it was the timing of it — Christmas.”
He does know that the donor was a 24-year-old girl.
It will be entirely up to the donor’s family if they ever decide to contact him.
The next step
As a teenager, Walter had done plenty of research and has always been an advocate for organ donation.
“My dad was a deputy sheriff for 26 years, and in his day I would see Dad with a organ cooler cruise down the road. I was amazed that people were unselfish so others could live,” said Walter.
Now that he is a recipient, Darrin is an avid proponent of organ donation and has given many speeches throughout northeast Iowa to motivate people to get on the Iowa Donor Registry list.
“When you mark that X on the back of the driver’s license and the sheriff’s department sees that, they still check with a family member,” explained Walter. “If you go to the Iowa Donor Registry website and sign up, law enforcement or first responders know you’re a donor and can automatically take the organs.”
He noted that harvesting organs is all about the timing.
Thanks to the selfless decisions of others, Darrin not only received the best Christmas present, but he is able to spend this and many more Father’s Day with his daughters, Kayla and Kaitlin.
For more information on organ donation or to sign up to be an organ donor visit www.donatelifeiowa.org.