Frank Germinaro had two kidney transplant surgeries, four decades apart. The 69-year-old retired principal from Kenosha likes to say he has outlived two generations of doctors at Froedtert Hospital.
Frank was born with a bladder defect and struggled with bladder and kidney infections growing up. His kidneys began to fail when he was a teenager. He loved music and didn’t let his declining health stop him from starting a band and playing polka music at area weddings. At the age of 19, Frank was in complete renal failure and went on dialysis while awaiting a transplant.
“It was difficult, but I have one of those optimistic personalities,” Frank said. “I knew I was sick but I did the best I could.”
Frank’s first kidney transplant was in March 1970, and the organ lasted an exceptionally long time. Today, the average life span of a deceased donor kidney transplant is 10 to 12 years, but Frank’s lasted 46 years. In that time, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in music education, got married and had four children. Frank worked as a music teacher and, later, a principal in the Racine Unified School District. He was also a Catholic school principal in Kenosha.
In January 2016, Frank returned to Froedtert Hospital and saw a team of specialists in the End-Stage Kidney Disease and Kidney Transplant Program. His youngest daughter, Leanne Germinaro, 35, was a match and ready to be his donor.
The day before the surgery was scheduled, doctors were forced to put it on hold because Frank got shingles and the virus weakened his immune system. Frank spent the next year in and out of the hospital, dealing with a septic infection and heart problems while still on dialysis. At one point, he needed a ventilator to breathe.
“I was home alone, when I fell down and could not get up,” Frank said. "I even had to go to physical therapy to teach my muscles how to move again.”
Frank’s family spent many nights with him in the hospital. He never gave up hope. He changed his diet and started aquatic therapy, losing 60 pounds for the surgery.
An experienced team of kidney transplant specialists cared for Frank, including transplant surgeon, Christopher Johnson, MD. They decided Frank was healthy enough for surgery in April 2017, and, as planned, Leanne would be his donor. He was 68 years old.
“I was lucky I had a live donor because if I didn’t I would probably still be on the waiting list,” Frank said.
A live donor is helpful, and sometimes, mandatory in order to give an elderly patient a realistic chance of surviving.
“There is a limited time frame and window where the patient may be healthy enough to get a transplant,” Dr. Johnson said. “If you’re on the waiting list and have to wait five to seven years, it is unlikely someone of Frank’s age, with a fair number of medical problems, would survive,” he said.
On the day of the surgery, Frank was worried about Leanne, but he trusted the medical team’s expertise. Froedtert Hospital is a recognized leader in offering kidney transplant donors outstanding outcomes, exceptional care and lifelong post-transplant care. Transplant coordinators walk donors through every step related to donation and support their recovery. In addition, all donation surgeries at Froedtert Hospital are performed laparascopically — without a major incision — which means a quicker recovery for donors and minimal scarring.
“Anything that needed explaining, they were there for me,“ Frank said. “I could really trust everyone,”
After the transplant, Frank and Leanne’s hospital rooms were near each other. They walked back and forth, talking and joking as they always had, but something about their relationship was different. Their bond goes beyond the father-daughter relationship. Frank said he owes his life to his daughter.
“What she did goes way beyond what is expected of another human being,” he said. "I thank her because I feel like I am back to my old self.”
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