GLEN ROSE — For roughly the last 15 years, Doug Ogletree had been preparing for the events that took place in his life just over two months ago.
When in his late 30s, Ogletree, now 53, confirmed what he already believed: He had hereditary kidney disease.
“My mom had the disease, and we knew about it in the 1980s,” he said. “We lived in a rural community in Oklahoma and the doctors really had trouble diagnosing her back then. It took several years before they came up with what her issue was.”
Over the years, Ogletree, the youngest of four boys, has seen the disease take its toll on his family, and he knew it would only be a matter of time before it struck him.
His oldest brother died of cancer in 2009 and he was on dialysis at the time. Another brother, who had a kidney transplant and was doing well, was later diagnosed with cancer and passed away last year.
He has one brother who is still alive, and he undergoes dialysis three times a week.
“I watched my mom do dialysis and I watched two of my three brothers do dialysis and that’s something I’ve tried to avoid ever since I learned I had the disease,” he said.
Early on, he knew he had to go on the offensive. He knew it was going to progress, but it became a matter of how he would slow it down.
“I knew what to expect and I knew how to approach it, and I had a lot of advantage on how to be proactive,” he said.
For the next 15 years he did all he could to thwart the effects of the disease, but it all came to a head earlier this year.
“My kidney function had been declining for the past 15 years, but it really hit its peak in June,” he said. “I was already in stage 4 kidney failure, and I was moving to the point where they put you on a transplant list.”
He and his family were getting ready to head out on vacation and at the time he felt something wasn’t right. He went to a local doctor and he confirmed his thought with some tests.
The next day, he saw a specialist in Fort Worth, and they began the paperwork to get him on the kidney transplant list.
At the same time, he began experiencing sharp pains in his right side, and an MRI eventually revealed an enlarged liver.
“I didn’t know I had any issue with my liver because my liver numbers had always been good,” he said. “There is a close association of how your kidneys and liver work together, and a lot of people who have polycystic kidney disease also affects the liver and causes a cyst to grow on the liver. It doesn’t impair the function of the liver, it just causes the liver to get quite big.”
In mid-July, after undergoing a battery of tests, his cases were presented to two committees where he was recommend for a kidney and liver transplant, and he was eventually approved for both.
“They go through the gamut of what your lifestyle is like, and I get it,” he said. “They are pretty selective of what they are doing. They are also looking at your health.”
On Aug. 21, he visited his specialist and he was told it wasn’t going to be long before he would get the transplants, and the doctor was right.
One week later, on Aug. 28, the call came at 3 a.m. from Baylor University Medical Center in downtown Dallas. His wife heard the phone ring, but by the time he got to it in the other room, he’d missed the call.
As instructed, he called back.
The nurse on the phone said, “Mr. Ogletree, I think we have organs for you.”
He called back again at 11 a.m. and was told to be at the hospital at 4:30 p.m. After arriving and waiting for a time, he was told the surgery wasn’t going to happen that day, and he was asked to return at 5 a.m. the following day.
They left Glen Rose at 3:30 a.m. and arrived at the hospital in Dallas just before 5 a.m. on Aug. 29.
“They checked my ID, and then it was one person after the next after the next after the next for all the preparation,” he said. “…I was glad there was a clergy person and we not only prayed for myself, but we prayed for the person giving me the organs. I was really happy that happened.”
He went into surgery around 8 a.m. and came out 12 hours later with a new kidney placeD in the front left side of his body (he now has three, although his original two are barely functioning), and they removed his 18-pound liver ( a normal liver is around 3 pounds) and transplanted a new one from his donor.
He knows nothing about his donor, but in six months he can write a letter to the family, and if they choose to meet, coordinators will make that happen. All he knows is he received excellent organs.
The liver, he said, was ranked as a “1” on a scale of 1-100.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, but I think it’s because it happened so quickly you don’t have a chance to think about that part of it,” he said. “You’re thinking, if this happens, it’s going to increase my quality of life and I’m going to get a whole lot more years down the road.”
A day after the surgery, he was walking, and four days later he came home.
“I didn’t think I was in that great of shape, but once my liver was removed, I must have been in better shape than I realized,” he said. “I walked pretty much every day until the day they checked me out.”
For the first six weeks after returning home, he went to the doctor three days a week in Fort Worth. After six weeks, he went on Mondays and Fridays, and just recently he’s been moved to just one day a week — on Mondays.
He understands the magnitude of the realization that someone else had to die, so that he could live a more comfortable life.
“The only thing I could say is ‘thank you, you’ve changed my life forever,’” he said of the anonymous donor. “What a wonderful gift. There is no way to repay that.”
Ogletree, who has taught in Glen Rose ISD for 29 years, returned to work on Nov. 6.
The school disinfected his room and he has been instructed to wear a mask during class, but he’s glad to be back in the classroom where he teaches dual credit anatomy, chemistry and biology for Angelo State University, and pre-AP chemistry.
While out, he still had one foot in the classroom, however. From his home, he created video lessons that students viewed via the internet, and he also prepared tests.
“I was mentally able to do it and for the most part physically able to do it, and I figured what I could do would leave me less of a mess I would have to come back and clean up,” he said. “…I had to teach myself how to deliver more of a 21st-century lesson without physically being there.”
He takes 19 pills each day, and eight of those pills he will take for the remainder of his life, but they will serve as an eternal reminder.
“It’s literally a gift, and I’m grateful that the person who gave me the organs was willing to give organs and that the family was willing to follow through with it,” he said.