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Mr. Lewis: 'Things Have Gotten Worse for Me'

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Monday, July 16, 2018

DAVENPORT, IA - His positive outlook on life — even when it seems bleak — is tough to match.

Last week, Usular Lewis Bell, aka Mr. Lewis, picked up the phone at the North Family YMCA in Davenport and said he is “living the dream.” Even though he recently missed about three weeks of work due to his failing cadaver kidney, Bell was telling the truth; he is grateful to be alive.

“Things have gotten worse for me,” he later said. “I’m back on dialysis, and I’m currently waiting for a transplant.”

On Friday, Bell underwent his 10th session of dialysis in the last month. The four-hour procedure connects him to a monitoring machine and a dialyzer, sometimes called an artificial kidney, which filters toxins and excess fluids from his blood.

He is all too familiar with the time-consuming process. Bell endured five years of tri-weekly dialysis treatments before receiving a new kidney on Jan. 1, 2013.

The 53-year-old father of two and grandfather of three later was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS. The rare disease attacked his transplanted kidney's filters and caused serious scarring, which ultimately led to the organ's failure.

After his shift behind the front desk Wednesday, June 13, Bell admitted himself to Genesis Medical Center-East Rusholme Street, Davenport, which has an inpatient dialysis center. He spent a little more than two weeks there before returning home June 29. Bell, who has worked at the Y for 14 years, went back to his part-time job a week ago.

He now receives treatments Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons at DaVita E.A. Motto Dialysis, across East Rusholme from Genesis. He is taking immunosuppressants, or anti-rejection drugs, to reduce his body's ability to attack his already weakened organ. He sticks to a fairly strict diet, too.

Later this month, Bell will undergo a kidney transplant evaluation with a team from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, his second in two years.

As of July 2, 544 people were on the Iowa waiting list for a kidney from a deceased donor, according to the Iowa Donor Network. As many as 100,000 people are on the national waiting list for a kidney, experts say, and the waiting period for most areas is estimated at three to five years.

African-Americans have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than Caucasians, increasing the risk of organ failure. Bell, who is black and has said he never was a heavy drinker or illicit drug user, suffers from both type two diabetes and high blood pressure. While they represent 13 percent of the population, African-Americans make up 34 percent of those waiting for a kidney, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.

Although he has no idea how long he will have to wait to receive another kidney, Bell finds comfort knowing he survived a similar battle before.

"The outcome may or may not be the same, but at least the path is pretty much the same," he said.

Y member Kathie Heaps, a 65-year-old white woman, volunteered last year to give Bell one of her healthy kidneys. Despite their differences in age and race, the interested donor passed all the prerequisite tests, except for one. In March, Heaps was told the level of creatinine — a waste product in the bloodstream from the normal breakdown of muscles — was normal for her age, but it did not meet the necessary threshold.

The transplant eventually could have reduced functioning of her healthy kidney by 25 percent, she said.

"Everything had gone well, and then boom, I learned it could put me in trouble later," Heaps said. "It took the wind out of my sails for several days."

Because he spends about 12 hours on dialysis each week, Bell refers to that part of his life as his second job. To pass the time and relax during his visits, he usually listens to a mix of blues, jazz, hip-hop, R&B and reggae. His choice of music depends on his mood.

Bell is happy to be back at work Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. In his free time, he studies social psychology; he is pursuing a liberal arts degree from Upper Iowa University.

His condition feels debilitating at times, but Bell does not let that bring him down. He wants others to learn from his perspective and is hopeful maybe someone from his community feels inspired to help him.

"I don't think we understand how precious life really is until there's a life or death situation," Bell said. "This is a life-saving moment."

Contact:
500 E 3rd St
Davenport, IA 52801
563-383-2200
newsroom@qctimes.com

Author: Jack Cullen
Source: Quad City Times
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