POWELL, Wyoming — "I feel so good I can hardly stand it," Tim Seeley said last week.
That's something he, his wife Lynnae and their three children celebrate every day. It's also a dramatic change from his outlook from just more than a month ago.
Tim's kidneys and his health were failing, and he was preparing for daily kidney dialysis to keep him alive.
"I was really at a point where I was slowly kind of just coming to the realization that probably I just wouldn't last that long," Seeley said, sitting with Lynnae in the living room of their Powell home.
But that scenario changed completely when Nicolle Cruz underwent testing and found she was a good match to donate a kidney to Seeley.
Seeley and Cruz are co-workers at Powell Valley Healthcare.
Seeley, 54, said he was 25 or 26 when he first learned his blood sugars were high. Although the use of an insulin pump has kept his diabetes under complete control for the last eight or nine years, his kidneys already had sustained damage that was compounded by high blood pressure.
Starting nine years ago, blood tests showed his serum creatinine had increased gradually, indicating his kidneys were stressed. That was when his doctor helped him get an insulin pump.
The doctor advised that, after the initial rise in serum creatinine, it likely would plateau for a long time, "then go down on a slope quite quickly," Seeley said.
That proved to be true for him in January 2012, when his serum creatinine increased dramatically, and he was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure.
"By April, I was feeling so sick," he said. "At that time, we started talking about the options, whether transplant or dialysis. Though dialysis was more available, it doesn't really fix anything, and a person continues to deteriorate under it."
The latest research shows patients do better if they go directly to a transplant without having dialysis first, "but we thought chances of that were very slim, so we were looking into options for dialysis."
Seeley was told he would need to start dialysis in December. In preparation, his doctor in July surgically implanted a fistula in a vein in his arm. The fistula makes dialysis possible without damage to his blood vessels, but it takes four months to heal after the procedure, Seeley said.
Meanwhile, the doctor advised Seeley to consider a transplant.
But, because Seeley's O positive blood type is not common, the chances of finding a donor quickly was fairly remote. It usually takes about four years to find a donor for someone with an O positive blood type, he said.
"Until they said, 'You need to go on the transplant list,' we didn't tell anyone," added Lynnae Seeley. "Then we decided it was time to tell the kids."
The Seeleys' two adult sons each offered to donate a kidney for their father, but he refused their offers.
"They have the same genes and a chance of getting diabetes," he said. He didn't want either of them to donate a kidney, then develop renal problems later in life. Their daughter, who was not a candidate to donate a kidney, wanted to help in other ways.
"She designed a handout and put it up and passed it out all around town," Tim Seeley said. "Word got around pretty quick."
Within a short amount of time, five people had offered to take a test to find out if they would be a match.
"You basically give them the number for (the transplant center in Denver) and encourage them to make the call," Lynnae Seeley said. "Then you don't get any information."
Tim Seeley said he was sitting in his office in December when Cruz came in.
"She handed me an envelope with a letter that I've got here," he said, pointing to a scrap book. "She said not to say anything, just to read it and to think about it."
In the letter, Cruz told him she always had felt it was the right thing to do to help people when you're given a chance.
"She quoted a couple of Scriptures. ... She said she had prayed about it a lot and had talked to her husband, her mother and her children, and they had said if it was possible, she should do it," Tim Seeley said. "She asked me to have an open mind and consider it."
In an interview with the Tribune on Friday, Cruz, 37, said she learned last fall that Seeley was in need of a kidney transplant, and his blood type was O positive.
"I kind of felt an inner tug," she said. "I'm O positive. I put it in the back of my mind, but I didn't know what it would involve. I definitely started praying for the Seeleys, and about a month later, I heard that Tim was really sick."
She said she talked to her husband, Rusty, and told him she had the same blood type and there was a chance that she might be a suitable donor.
"I did more research and brought it up again a couple of weeks later," she said. "He said, 'You know, if you can do something like that, I think it would be really neat.'"
Because he is protective of her, Cruz said that wasn't the reaction she had expected.
"I know it was kind of a prompting by God," she said. "This was supposed to happen."
Later, they discussed the possibility with their children, three daughters ages 17, 14, and 12, and a son, 9.
"They were accepting of it," Cruz said.
She approached Seeley with her offer, which he later accepted.
Afterward, she contacted the transplant center in Denver and arranged for the testing, which determined she was a good match. She was in good health and was not taking scheduled medications, and therefore a strong candidate to donate a kidney.
She gave the Seeleys the news, but they didn't get official confirmation from the transplant center until Jan. 17 — 12 days before the Jan. 29 transplant date.
The Seeleys were able to find a small apartment in Denver, where they expected to stay for up to six weeks following the transplant.
Meanwhile, Powell Valley Healthcare employees started a campaign to raise the money Cruz would need for transportation and hotel costs for the week she and Rusty would be in Denver. Tim Seeley's insurance paid her medical costs in addition to his.
The Seeleys and the Cruzes went out to dinner together the day before the transplant.
"At that point, I had totally gotten past any kind of fear or anxiety," Tim Seeley said. "It was like, 'Let's go do this.'"
"He was just whistling 'Dixie,'" Lynnae Seeley said. "It even scared me more that he wasn't afraid of the surgery."
After the transplant, "I just started feeling better immediately," he said.
But Cruz had some rough days. She expected that.
"They told us, before going into surgery, Tim feels like he's been hit by a Mack truck, and I feel great," Cruz said. "After surgery, he feels great and I feel like I've been hit by a Mack truck.
"That's definitely been true. ... When I came out of surgery, my kidney function was really low because my kidneys were used to sharing the work."
But that's improving now, and her remaining kidney — the one on her right side — will grow, she said.
Cruz took four weeks of sick time off work, and returned last week.
"I still feel a bit nauseous," she said. "But I would do it again in a heartbeat."
Seeley's recovery went well for the most part, though his body did attempt to reject the kidney the day after the surgery. To counteract that, he was put on a strong medication that suppressed his immune system, leaving him susceptible to infections for three to six months.
"I wash my hands like a lunatic now," he said.
After six months, things will be more normal, he said. He always will have to be on anti-rejection medication, but it won't be as much, and it won't be as strong.
The Seeleys returned home late last month to a life filled with possibilities they nearly had given up on just a few months before.
"I've got a future again," Seeley said. "I had come to accept that it wasn't going to be.
"Before the transplant, I felt polluted. I had no drive, no energy. I was constantly tired," he said. "My lunch hour turned into a nap hour every day. I got progressively weaker. I can now tell that my mind wasn't as sharp as it is now. ... I felt bad enough that I just knew I was going to die."
Now, "I'm feeling great, excited to be going back to work, excited to be the employee I used to be. ... I don't hurt, I don't have a bad attitude about anything. My mind is just racing about things that I want to do."
Cruz saw Tim Seeley for the first time after surgery on Friday.
Before the transplant, she said, "his shoulders were slumped, his face was drawn, he was pale and coughing. His wife said he would just fall into bed, exhausted. Now, he's standing straight, he looks good and he has energy."
In addition to the knowledge that her kidney donation helped extend Tim Seeley's life, Cruz said she and her family have been blessed by their association with the Seeleys.
"We've gained such a special family," she said.
Lynnae Seeley summed it up: "It was like a total turnaround for us. I just think Nicolle Cruz walks on water."
Information from: Powell (Wyo.) Tribune, http://www.powelltribune.com