LAPEER — Linda Berker can’t wait for the day she and her dog, Sadie, can go on long hikes together and enjoy the great outdoors like she once did.
It’s been almost two years since Berker, 62, lost the function of both kidneys and had to go on peritoneal dialysis every night at home. She said she spends about 12 hours a day, usually overnight while she tries to sleep, undergoing the at-home dialysis treatment.
“It replaces about 5-10 percent of my kidney functions but takes a lot out of you, so I am very tired all the time,” she said. “You kind of get used to being in pain and uncomfortable.”
A semi-retired attorney, past environmental activist and former hike leader for the Sierra Club, Berker said she’s been on the kidney waiting list for about three years now and is currently looking for a donor with either A or O blood types.
She said anyone can offer to donate a kidney, however, because through Ascension St. John Hospital, if a donor with a kidney earmarked for Berker turns out not to be a match, it can still be donated to someone else if that person has a compatible donor for Berker.
All of the donor’s expenses are covered by the recipient’s insurance, even if they are from out of state, said Berker. While expenses are covered, the donor does not receive any sort of financial compensation.
“Also, if (the donor) ever needs an organ, they are at the top of the list for being a donor,” she said.
Berker said before she lost kidney function, she was a very active volunteer and a board member for the Flint River Watershed Coalition, as well as being active in the Sierra Club Nepessing Group and the Genesee Intermediate School district Foundation.
“I led 5-mile hikes every Wednesday. I used to love primitive camping and all wilderness sports,” said Berker. “I’m still the hiking administrator for my group – I just can’t hike with them anymore.”
A typical day for Berker is spending the late morning and afternoon caring for her husband, who was left debilitated by a stroke, before tending to errands and some legal work she still does for Lapeer and Genesee counties, mostly handling guardianships.
In the evening she sets up the dialysis machine and then hook it up to her body so it can pump solution through her while she sleeps. It is difficult, however, to have a good rest because the machine sometimes is painful or causes discomfort.
“If I’ve turned over the wrong way, there can be a lot of beeping,” she said. “I lay in one position a lot. It’s usually done by 6:30 a.m. and I sleep until 11 a.m. There’s a lot involved – it’s a full-time nursing job to take care of yourself.”
Berker describes herself as “really active” before her kidneys stopped working. She maintained an office in Davison for years, spent time in court all day, did housework and cared for her for husband in addition to that daily walk with her dog, Sadie, and with her friends at the Sierra Club.
Still, despite her condition, Berker said she tries to get in short walks and stays busy during the hours she’s not on dialysis.
“You have to stay healthy,” she said. “You have to be healthy before you can get a kidney. If you get too old and unhealthy you can’t get a kidney.”
The average wait for a cadaver kidney from a deceased person on the transplant list is 5-7 years, she said.
“If I get one of these and it survives it will give me an average of five more years of life,” said Berker. “The best thing would be for a live person to give me one of their kidneys, then I can expect to live a normal lifespan again – at least 10 more years with a lot less chance of complications.”
Berker said she hopes anyone who might be willing to help her by donating a kidney will call Ascension St. John Hospital at 313-343-7470 and offer to donate.
She asked that potential donors contact the hospital directly, since there is nothing she can do to facilitate a donation.
“The hospital rules even prohibit me from calling to find out about offers to donate until a match is found,” said Berker.
Until then, Berker said she will continue waiting and hoping for a donor, so one day she can return to her once active lifestyle and a hopeful return to long walks with her beloved pet.
“Sadie wants me to get better,” said Berker, “so I can go on walks with her again.”