A Special Gift

Published 10:14 am Monday, July 27, 2009

IRONTON — “I look at my daddy and I think I have time. I look at my sister and I think ‘hero,’” said Kathy Hickman of North Myrtle Beach, formerly of Ironton.

“She let us keep our daddy a little bit longer.”

Colleen Holderby, of Norfolk, Va., differs with her sister when it comes to the “hero” moniker, but there is no denying that her benevolence has altered lives within the Riley family that span four generations.

Email newsletter signup

On July 14, Larry Riley woke up from surgery with one of his daughter Colleen’s kidneys.

Following two years of dialysis and several more years of health complications, he was finally free to live again.

“You lose three days out of your week,” Larry said of the fatigue brought on by dialysis, a process where the blood is removed from the body, cleansed and returned. “It wipes you out, but it keeps you alive.”

Now, at 73, the retired insurance agent and father of nine is able to rekindle his passion for fishing and make plans to visit grandchildren across the country.

“I’m glad he’s got a life back and he’s not on a leash anymore,” said Maureen, his wife of 52 years. “We’ve had grandchildren and great-grandchildren born that we couldn’t go see.”

Thanks to Colleen, that leash has been lifted.

“Our whole family worked together on this,” Colleen said, deflecting personal praise little more than a week after the surgery. “We always take care of each other.”

Maureen was no-nonsense when describing her daughter. “I’m very proud of her,” she said of Colleen. “She’s always been the strong, sensible, ‘get it done’ child.”

“Get it done” is exactly what Colleen had in mind when she first became aware of her father’s condition.

The 48 year-old Addison York Insurance agent quit smoking and drinking Mountain Dew and began exercising to work herself into shape.

“I thought I was the one to begin with,” she noted of a premonition that became reality.

Every Riley family member interviewed for this article mentioned that theirs is an extremely close family. Larry and wife Maureen raised six boys and three girls, all of whom had either been tested or were waiting to be tested to see if their kidney was a match for their father.

Joe Riley of Evergreen, N.C., was the first in line to donate a kidney to his dad. Following several weeks of tests, a transplant date seemed imminent between father and son. But, at the last moment, the Ohio State Medical Center, where Colleen would eventually give her father a kidney, contacted Joe with bad news.

“After a month and a half of testing, they said my triglycerides (a form of fat in the blood stream that contributes to cholesterol build-up) were too high,” Joe said. “That was a bummer to go that far only to find out at the last second that I couldn’t help.

“But, it was pretty neat that Colleen was such a good match.”

Joe and his brother John, who resides in Ironton, both spoke about how strong their father has always been. “There’s no quit in him,” John said. “Even through congestive heart failure and diabetes his demeanor was always happy and he never showed any fear.”

“They don’t make ‘em that tough anymore,” Joe added.

Displaying his gentle side when speaking of his daughter, Larry noted that he and Colleen have always been extremely close, working 15 years together in insurance sales in years past. “When she was 3 or 4, she would ask her mom who she’s going to look like,” he recalled. “Reen would say, ‘Imagine your daddy with red hair.’”

Now, thanks to a working kidney, father and daughter are more alike than anyone could have imagined.

Maureen credits this miracle to people on bended knee. “I want to thank everyone for their prayers for Larry and Colleen,” she said. “We couldn’t have gotten through this without faith.”

The Riley family wants other to know about the donation process.

“A lot of people are scared to ask about what it takes to be a donor,” Colleen said, noting that her experience at The Ohio State Medical Center spanned only three days. “But it never hurts to ask.”

Those who are curious about the process can visit www.kidney.org for more information.

“Kudos to The OSU Medical Center,” Joe added. “It’s a cool thing what donors can do to be able to give somebody a better life.”