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‘How do you thank somebody for that?’: Mason City man donates kidney to mother-in-law

From the 64 heartwarming and inspiring stories about North Iowans in 2018 series

Jon Prebeck of Mason City recalls the experience of donating a kidney to his mother-in-law, Tarla Hoover, in August after a lengthy screening process that began in the spring.

MASON CITY | Jon Prebeck’s parents raised him to help others at whatever length necessary.

And his most recent act of generosity — or rather, his largest — has given his mother-in-law, Tarla Hoover of Fort Dodge, new life.

“If (my parents) would’ve raised me differently ... I wouldn’t have done it,” said Prebeck, 33. “(They) raised me if you can help someone, you should definitely take the time and do everything you can.”

Prebeck, who lives in Mason City with his wife, Tia, and their three daughters, donated his left kidney to Hoover in late August after nearly five months of evaluation.

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Hoover, who will be 60 in December, said she had been fighting kidney disease since she was 18 years old.

“(My kidneys) kept getting worse and worse and finally they gave up,” she said in a phone interview with the Globe Gazette.

In January, she started peritoneal dialysis, and in April, she was placed on the transplant list.

Prebeck said he decided to get screened to be a kidney donor after Hoover stayed with him and his wife for a week to help take care of their daughters when they returned to work after maternity and paternity leave. The Prebecks’ youngest daughter was born in January.

Because of Hoover’s condition, she had to be on dialysis for eight hours each night, which required adjusting her schedule and traveling with a lot of medical equipment.

“She’s surviving but she’s not really living at that point,” he said. “I saw it firsthand, and I thought I would give it a shot.”

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Prebeck went to the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center website and began the process after several other family members weren’t a match to donate.

According to Mayo Clinic, a kidney donor can be living or deceased, related or unrelated, but tests, including blood, tissue and crossmatch, are conducted to determine whether a kidney is suitable for donation.

Prebeck underwent weeks of evaluation, including tests and scans, that required regular trips to Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“They literally do every possible test you can think of,” he said.

After being notified that Prebeck was a suitable kidney donor, Mayo Clinic conducted a month-long nationwide search to determine if there was someone who’d be a 100-percent match, but he was Hoover’s best option.

“When my daughter called me, I just broke down. He was a match,” Hoover said “He stepped up right away before I could talk to him.”

On Aug. 24, Prebeck said he and Hoover checked into Mayo Clinic at the same time before they were escorted to separate operating rooms.

“For me, the thing I was most nervous about was whether the kidney would work,” he said. “Hopefully it takes, hopefully her lifestyle is drastically better because of it.”

Prebeck, who wanted to see his 7-year-old daughter’s first day of school, was discharged from the hospital the Sunday after his surgery.

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He said he received a certificate and a pin from the transplant center for donating his kidney.

“It’s amazing what they do,” he said. “They treat the people who make the decision to donate really well.”

Hoover was in the hospital for about a week due to complications unrelated to her new kidney.

Prebeck said he was off work — the vice president of retail branch management at First Citizens Bank — for two weeks, but he had a no-weight restriction for six weeks, which was difficult being the father of three girls under 7 years old.

When he returned to the bank, he worked part-time for a week before coming back full-time.

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“It ended up working really well,” Prebeck said, noting there was a lot of rest and fluids. “Your support system is crucial in making it all work. It’s not just you and the recipient. It takes a lot of people to make that happen.”

Hoover said her quality of life has significantly improved since the kidney transplant, adding food tastes different and her energy is up.

“I don’t have words on how to thank him. I got my life back because of him,” Hoover said. “I wish there were more people like him in the world.”

According to Mayo Clinic statistics, its surgeons have completed more than 5,600 kidney transplants since the 1960s, including 3,600 living donor and 2,000 deceased donor kidney transplants.

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If a compatible living donor isn’t available, individuals are placed on a waiting list for a deceased-donor kidney, but because there are less available kidneys than there are people waiting for a transplant, the waiting time for deceased-donor kidney is usually a few years, the transplant center’s website states.

Hoover waited four months.

“How do I thank somebody for that?” she said. “He definitely earned some points.”

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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.


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