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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

Failed kidney inspires generosity

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robert Clark, Jr. , received the gift of life from his 30-year-old son, Robert Clark III: a donated kidney. Robert Clark, Jr. , received the gift of life from his 30-year-old son, Robert Clark III: a donated kidney.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

For more than two years, Robert Clark, Jr., was in danger of losing his career to kidney failure.

After years of dialysis, which dug deep into his sick-leave time with the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, Mr. Clark fell into a coma following surgery in 2002.

Two weeks later, Mr. Clark had exhausted nearly all his sick time, and was on the brink of a forced early retirement.

Then, the first of two incredible things happened.

First, his fellow workers came to the rescue. With Prosecutor Julia Bates leading the way, the other assistant prosecutors and staff donated their own sick time to Mr. Clark. All told, he got 900 hours of other people's time.

Then, on Dec. 2, he got another gift: His son, Robert Clark III, donated one of his healthy kidneys.

Getting a kidney from his son was priceless, said Mr. Clark, but the generosity of his co-workers has a special place in his heart too.

"It is overwhelming. I don't know if I will ever be able to return the thanks. Sometimes there are actions made by others that you can't find words to describe," said Mr. Clark, who joined the prosecutor's office in 1980 after graduating from the University of Toledo law school.

"They have been like an extended family for me. I don't know of any other office that would have done that," he said.

When the 58-year-old assistant county prosecutor successfully underwent the kidney transplant at Medical College of Ohio Hospitals, it ended a six-year struggle.

His kidneys began failing in 1998 for reasons that doctors don't exactly know. To help his ailing kidneys, he went on dialysis for 10 hours every night as soon as he left work.

Then, in April, 2002, after undergoing back surgery, he slipped into a coma. Attached to a ventilator, he was transported by Life Flight to the Cleveland Clinic.

It was then that he was staring at unpaid time off - and possibly retirement.

But Mrs. Bates, who six months earlier had lost her request to institute a sick-leave donation policy, went back to the county commissioners. This time they agreed to it.

Under a donation system, employees contribute some of their accrued time off to a pool. When someone has a significant illness and exhausts their own time, they can tap into the pool. It's like sick-time insurance.

"Instead of removing those people from the payroll who have dedicated their lives to the citizens of the county, we should help them during a time of serious medical situations," Mrs. Bates said. "But until we had this policy, workers who were willing to donate their sick time were unable to do so."

In all, 43 employees have donated over 900 hours in unused sick time. Assistant prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson, gave 40 hours of his unused leave.

"For someone like Bob, this program could make the difference in keeping your job during an illness that requires not working. If you lose your income, what are you going to do then?" Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Clark returned to work in September, 2003, but suffered a relapse in July when complications from the dialysis caused a reaction in his body. As his condition worsened, his 30-year-old son offered his extra kidney, a sacrifice he wanted to make years ago.

Concerned about taking an organ from someone who might one day need it, the elder Clark refused the offer six years earlier when his health problems began. "You are used to giving to your kids. It is hard to take something from them," he said.

When a compatibility screening showed that his son's kidney was a perfect genetic match - something that is more common among siblings than among parents and children - Mr. Clark agreed to the operation.

William Clark III said donating part of himself to his father was a gift to his whole family, and especially his daughters, who stand a better chance now of having their grandfather around for a long time.

"This has brought the whole family closer together. I love my dad deeply. He is like an older version of me. When I look at him, I see what I will be like in the future," he said.

Mr. Clark received the kidney on his daughter's 29th birthday. He said he will always honor that day as the beginning of a new chapter in his life, and on his son's birthday he will celebrate the birth of his kidney.

"Thirty years ago, those dates didn't mean that to me. Now those dates mean life," he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at: mreiter@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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