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Two-time transplant recipient goes over edge for kidney health

Dan Wolfe has been close to the edge before, but on Saturday, June 25, he hopes to go over it — in an entirely good way.

The 37-year-old from Westminster is part of a three-person fundraising team for the National Kidney Foundation's Rappel for Kidney Health event in Baltimore. Wolfe plans to take a rope in hand and rappel down the side of the Hyatt Regency, assuming his team — formed by his friend Amy Greten — can meet the fundraising goal.

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"It's $1,000 that we each need to raise, so it's $3,000 in order for us to rappel," he said. "We are at $1,500; that is what we have raised. If we can get another $1,500, that would be wonderful."

People interested in helping Wolfe out can donate online at kidneymd.kintera.org/rappel2016/amygreten, or they can even jump in and fund raise themselves — there's still time, according to Pattie Dash, vice president of mission advancement with the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland.

"We can have a total of 86 participants rappel, and right now we have about 60 people," she said. "Our hope is to garner a few more registrations. Each rappeler has to raise $1,000 to go over the edge."

This is the seventh year the rappelling fundraiser has been held in Baltimore, according to Dash, and last year's event raised $120,000. This year, people have already committed at least $80,000 toward a goal of $126,000, money that will go toward directly helping patients with kidney disease.

"We raise money ... to support our patient emergency assistance program, where patients who have chronic kidney disease, who are on dialysis or transplant patients are able to submit an application to request funds for their needs," Dash said. "When kidney patients are on dialysis, it's a three-day-a-week commitment and they are there for like four hours, and it's a very draining process on them. Many of them can't work like they used to, so even putting food on the table is going to be difficult."

Funds raised also help fund community testing initiatives to detect chronic kidney disease, according to Dash.

Dialysis and kidney transplant surgery is a hard path that Wolfe has walked down himself. Twice.

"This story starts for me at birth. I was born with a blockage in my urethra. They discovered the problem at 2 weeks old, but the damage had already been done," he said. "At 11, I had my first transplant. That was donated by my father."

The year after, Wolfe competed in the 1992 U.S. Transplant Games in Los Angeles, an Olympics-style competition for people who have received a life-saving organ transplant. He won a medal in swimming, and it was an athletic experience that may have informed his interested in rappelling once he heard of it.

"I don't like being told that I can't do something. I don't let limitations get in my way," Wolfe said.

The kidney donated by Wolfe's father lasted 18 years, until April 2009 when it ruptured.

"It was kind of touch and go. I had my family in the room with me and held my mom's hands and said my 'goodbyes' to her and my dad and my sister and all," he said. "I had my kids leave the room because I didn't want them in there for that part."

He was in a coma for three days and when he woke up, Wolfe said the ruptured kidney had been removed and a metal hemodialysis tube had been surgically implanted in his chest to keep him going until that June, 2009, when a kidney from his sister could be transplanted.

"I haven't had any problems, no hiccups, no nothing since," he said. "After one year, I started working again."

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Wolfe is now a chef at Donna's Restaurant in Baltimore, where he said they treat him like gold and he is always happy. Rappelling for Kidney Health would just be a way for him to acknowledge just how lucky he was, he said.

"A lot of people get on a waiting list, and deteriorate and die while they were waiting," Wolfe said. "My situation was terrible, but compared to others it was nothing."

According to statistics provided by the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland, between 10 and 12 Marylanders die each day while waiting for an organ transplant, while roughly 2,200 Marylanders are waiting for a kidney transplant.

Wolfe's going over the edge on Saturday may not make more kidneys available for transplants, nor might any donations people send his way, but Wolfe said he believes that if you can help someone in that process a little bit, it can mean a lot.

"It's something that is close to my heart," he said. "I am not someone who is trying to save the world, but it is definitely a good cause."

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How to Help

To make a donation or learn more about the Rappel for Kidney Health fundraiser, go to kidneymd.kintera.org/rappel2016/amygreten.

For more information on Kidney disease, kidney health or programs of the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland, go to www.kidneymd.org.

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