The U.S. leads the pack in the percentage of older adults who have trouble paying their medical bills.
June 28--CORSICANA -- In the 28 years Brad and Leecia Arnett have been married, life has thrown them many punches. Yet any time you meet them, both will have a smile on their face and most likely be cracking jokes.
They're just those kind of people.
The most recent challenge they're facing is a second kidney transplant for Brad. His first surgery was at age 6, when doctors addressed a kinked ureter (tube between kidney and bladder) and discovered his kidneys were malformed. It was also learned then that the ureter being twisted for so long caused damage to his left kidney.
"In 1982, I went for my football physical, and my blood pressure was high," Brad said. "A blood clot had shut off the blood flow to my right kidney. They tried to fix that, but it didn't work, and I lost function in my right kidney then."
Doctors learned that Brad's left kidney was functioning at two-thirds capacity, which is OK, and told him to go on and live his life as long as it operated, because eventually he would lose it. In 1993, his kidney function fell off and he was placed on dialysis, three times a week, four hours a session, for a period of two years.
"I had a transplant in 1995, and they added a functional kidney from a cadaver donor, which was put in my left front side," he said. "They left the original two in there, but they're only about the size of a raisin now. The new kidney will go in the right front side."
Come August, it will be two years that Brad has been on the transplant list for a new kidney. Typically, donor kidneys only last about eight years, according to Arnett, and he has had his for 19 years. With the advances in anti-rejection drugs, transplanted donor kidneys now last longer than the magic eight years.
Brad has worked at Hunter Excavation in Ennis for 19 years full-time, along with his brother Randall. They are the sons of Barbara Arnett, and Rhonda Barlow is their only sister.
Two years ago in August 2012, his most pressing medical need was the cancer on his ear, and the fact that it had moved down inside his ear. Squamous cell carcinoma was the diagnosis, but doctors had to remove nearly all of his ear canal, and used a skin graft from his leg to replace the tissue.
"All those years he was driving a truck, riding with the window down, and sun damage," said Leecia.
"They took the entire outside part of my ear off, then worked on the ear canal, and put it back on," Brad said.
Leecia has battled her own share of troubles, as well. On a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee in November 2004, Leecia noticed her body didn't feel right, and when she returned to Texas, it was learned that she has multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system. She takes a weekly shot to slow the effects of the MS, and walks with a cane, but her doctor told her she was too hard-headed to let MS get her down.
"But they did put me on a stress drug, because stress aggravates my condition," she said. "Now I'm happy all the time, and don't ream out people at the post office!"
At a routine mammogram appointment in April 2009, there was some concern that led to more testing, and then a biopsy. It was a fast-growing breast cancer. Due to her MS, it was recommended she have a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, and in two weeks time, her mass grew from 1.5 centimeters to 2.3.
Leecia had a port for chemotherapy put in on May 20, 2009, a lumpectomy on May 27, then a total hysterectomy that was already scheduled on June 30. She had six chemo treatments and six weeks of radiation, five days a week in Dallas.
"We like to live on the wild side, adventurous," Leecia joked in 2009. "Don't want to get too comfortable. We like to keep a little drama going."
Through all this, they also took time to care for five canines and raise their niece and nephew, Jordan and Joshua. Jordan is 21, and just became a certified phlebotomist, and is busy filling out job applications, with a long-term goal of moving to England. Josh is 19 and just graduated June 6 from Mildred High School, then left that same weekend for a job in Midland with his father.
Brad's blood and tissue are on file at Baylor, so when his name comes up on the transplant list the organization will match it with the available organ to see if it's a match before ever calling the Arnetts.
"We got our hopes up two different times with the first one," he said. "We drove to Tyler, and the lady had had Hepatitis, and the kidney was no good. The second time it was something else.
"If my kidney function will stay where it is right now, I'll be fine until I get the transplant. I don't feel bad. My creatinine is not great, but it's okay."
The first time he received a transplant, they had worked to put away money and save up for the time he would be off work, and the medical bills. This time, things are different. Leecia has recently had to be put on disability, since her health does not allow her to work. The company Brad works for is small, and switched their insurance to Obamacare. Their prescription drug bills alone average a minimum of $700 to 800, and that is just co-pays, not outright. There will be additional testing, visits with doctors, and Brad off work for three months. The couple has struggled financially for so long with all the medical expenses, they never seem to recover from one before the next wave hits.
One friend is putting together a website which will allow them to receive direct deposits from anyone wishing to help into a bank account. Visit www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/swq4/brad-needs-kidney-transplant. But in order to start the fundraising, there will be a garage sale today at the old Stewart Motor Company building on Beaton St. and First Avenue where all the proceeds will go toward the Arnetts.
The Arnetts, who are both members of Mildred Baptist Church say "Our faith in God is who we are. Daily walk."
"Around here, we just get up, put our feet on the ground every morning and go," Brad said. "We're made for each other."
Both Brad and Leecia will turn 50 this year.
"There's nothing I would change about it," Brad said. "I'd go back and do it again ... it was too fun the first time."
Deanna Kirk is a Daily Sun staff writer and editor of Explore magazine. She may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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