'Bear' gets new kidney; 3-hour surgery ends with a good report from the surgeon


The last thing Christopher "Bear" Bieniek saw when he closed his eyes yesterday morning was his mother's face and the operating room ceiling adorned with colorful stars.

While the transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital was routine, the circumstances were highly unusual, as the 13-year-old eighth-grader from Aberdeen received a kidney from an Indiana woman whom -- until last week -- he'd never met.

For Bieniek and his family, yesterday was the start of a new life.

"I'm so glad," said Terry Bieniek, the teen-ager's mother. "It's been really rough for us."

The day began at 6 a.m. with the arrival of Joyce A. Roush, a 45-year-old mother of five who works as an organ donation coordinator in Indiana, who decided last year to donate her kidney after attending a presentation about a transplant procedure pioneered by Hopkins physicians Dr. Lloyd Ratner and Dr. Louis R. Kavoussi.

Surrounded by her husband Richard, her daughters, Emily, 19, and Amy, 15, and her son, David, 4, Roush said she was excited.

"I'm not nervous at all, I just wish I could get a cup of coffee," she said. "I kept thinking all the way out here last night that it was Christopher's last night on dialysis."

Since his kidneys failed last Christmas, the shy teen-ager has endured daily eight-hour dialysis sessions.

Roush underwent a procedure known as "laparoscopic nephrectomy," in which surgeons using a camera inserted into the abdomen remove the kidney after making a 2- to 3-inch incision below the patient's navel. The technique is less painful and requires a shorter hospital stay than conventional surgery.

In a separate wing of the hospital, Bieniek played card games with his sisters, Laura and Pamela Reynolds.

"He was up most of the night, worried about what was going to happen, I think," said his father, Harold Bieniek. "No one here has gotten a lot of sleep."

After going into the operating room, Bieniek lay on the table with his mother standing beside him. She whispered, "I love you," and kissed him before leaving.

"You all take good care of him," she said tearfully to nurse Alison Relyea.

While the surgeons made the first incision and then tied off veins and arteries, the Bieniek and Roush families visited with each other.

Joyce Roush met the Bienieks last week when she flew east for some pre-operative tests, but yesterday was the first meeting for the rest of the family.

"She's a caring, giving, outgoing, compassionate person," said Richard Roush, the donor's husband. "It never really mattered to her whether or not she met the recipient, she just wanted to help."

An exchange of gifts

Roush's co-workers pitched in and bought Bieniek a portable compact disc player and the Bienieks brought a stuffed bear for Roush as a reminder of the boy whose life she is helping to change.

Dr. Paul M. Colombani, who operated on Bieniek, said laparoscopic nephrectomy is making transplants from living donors more common. In August, an unidentified 50-year-old Minnesota woman donated a kidney to a stranger.

"If every person that died was a donor, then we probably wouldn't need to have living donors," said Colombani, who is chief of pediatric surgery at Hopkins.

While classical music played in the operating room, Colombani gently lifted Roush's kidney from a small red and white cooler before placing it in Bieniek's abdomen.

After three hours, the surgery was over and Colombani came out to give Bieniek's family a good report. Roush is scheduled to be released from the hospital this week, and Bieniek should be sent home next week. He will spend two months recuperating.

There are so many people to thank, the teen-ager's mother said, including her co-workers at Procter & Gamble Co. in Abingdon, who stopped work at the plant yesterday during her son's surgery for a moment of prayer.

Her son has a new kidney, a new friend in Roush and the knowledge of how many people have been pulling for him.

"All of our friends have been so supportive, as well as my co-workers and people we don't even know," said Terry Bieniek. "I just want to thank everyone who prayed for Bear and Joyce."

Pub Date: 9/08/99

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