Erma Bombeck’s son third in family to receive kidney transplant

Kidney transplant facts

  • More than 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, although most don't know it. Each year, more than 87,000 Americans die from causes related to kidney failure.
  • In the United States, there are 87,365 patients on the waiting list for kidney transplants.
  • In 2009, 4,656 people in the U.S. died while waiting for kidney transplants. On average, one person dies every two hours in the U.S. while waiting for a kidney transplant.

Source: National Kidney Foundation,

When Jackie Bombeck and Karen Baumann became friends in junior high school, they couldn’t have imagined it would eventually lead to a life-changing kidney transplant for Bombeck’s future husband.

Like his older brother Andy, Matt Bombeck, the youngest of Erma and Bill Bombeck’s three children, inherited the polycystic kidney disease that claimed the life of his mother in 1996 after an unsuccessful kidney transplant. It’s the most common hereditary disease in the United States, with a 50 percent chance of being passed along to a child. Andy already had undergone a successful transplant with a kidney donated by his wife, Shari.

Then last December Matt, in good health other than his kidney, joined some 87,000 Americans on the kidney transplant list.

He was an excellent candidate but he needed a donor — a quest that could take an average of one to three years.

Friends stepped forward to help the couple who live in Los Angeles with their 13-year-old daughter, Eva.

On average, only one in five who are tested as donors prove to be a match. A friend of Bombeck’s sister, Betsy, proceeded fairly long into the donor process, but was ultimately ruled out.

Jackie Bombeck called her good friend Karen Baumann in Putnam Valley, N.Y., to confide her disappointment.

When Karen’s husband Roger learned of Bombeck’s plight, he had an immediate reaction: “Maybe I could help.”

Roger, 56, an art teacher at Manhattanville College, began doing research about kidney transplants and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where Bombeck’s would take place.

“Their track record is impeccable, probably best in world,” he recalled. “I spoke with my doctor, and he gave his blessing.”

Baumann proved to be a perfect match.

Although their wives are close friends, Matt and Roger didn’t know each other well. “We are here on this planet for such a short period of time,” Roger reflected. “You do what you can to help others.”

Matt said he was blown away by the offer: “He was very clear-headed about it and he wanted to help. It’s a huge thing that he’s done, he’s so incredibly modest about the whole thing. His attitude was, ‘Why wouldn’t someone do that?’”

Kidney transplants today have a very high success rate — 90 percent with a deceased donor, 95 percent with a living donor.

“Having a live donor is generally an advantage,” and allows for timing of the transplant so the patient doesn’t have to wait years and years, said Dr. Gabriel Danovitch, medical director of the kidney transplant program at UCLA. “And kidneys from living donors tend to last longer.”

The risk to the donor is extremely small, Danovitch said, and recovery is speedy especially now that most surgeries are done by laparoscope.

Roger said the transplant team’s confidence was infectious: “I would absolutely encourage other donors to do it and go to UCLA. There wasn’t a glitch, not a question that went unanswered.”

The Bombeck family, in turn, gained strength from Roger’s calm and confidence.

After the transplant, Roger’s first question was, “How’s Matt?”

Matt’s first words: “How’s Roger?”

“This changes everything for Matt,” Jackie said. “It’s amazing someone could offer that so willingly.”

One man went home Nov. 17 with a healthy functioning kidney and a new lease on life. And two men who hardly knew one another have formed a lifelong bond.

“I really do feel like they’re part of our family now,” said Matt.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2209 or mmccarty@Dayton

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