CEDAR RAPIDS — Dave Gosch, 55, looked around Tricia Weber’s classroom at Grant Wood Elementary School last week and recalled his own days as a student there, many years ago.
And he recalled the time a few years later, at age 17, when he learned he had only one kidney. Doctors told him he had to stop playing football, or any contact sport that risked damaging it.
So he gave up football and played baseball instead. For decades, all was well until suddenly it wasn’t. In 2016, Gosch was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. His one kidney was failing.
“I’ve realized that this could always happen,” he said. “Luckily, I made it until I was in my 50s. Hopefully, I can make it a few more years and get back to work and a normal life.”
That hope has been rekindled by Weber, who has volunteered to donate one of her own kidneys to Gosch, a man she had never met before signing up to undergo surgery and give him part of her own body.
That’s how she explained what would happen to her fourth- and fifth-grade students.
“Part of me will be put into him!” she told them.
That conversation came at the end of a lesson on respect. In Weber’s classroom, lamps provide soft light and the students gather at the front of the classroom after recess for a moment of “yoga calm,” breathing in and out together as they get ready to learn.
“A lot of times when we show people respect, it’s people we know. But it can also be a complete stranger, right?” Weber asked the class. “A lot of times with respect, I think of the Golden Rule — treat others how you want to be treated.”
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Gosch’s daughter, Jessi, is a behavior technician with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She met Weber last year while working as a paraeducator with a student in Weber’s classroom.
Jessi Gosch, 30, had hoped to donate a kidney to her dad. When she found out she was ineligible, she posted her disappointment on Facebook. Weber, 44, saw the post and spoke up, volunteering to get tested to see if she could donate.
“I have a really close relationship with my dad. My dad is my rock. I think I just put myself in Jessi’s shoes,” she said.
Jessi Gosch was doing laundry when she heard Weber would be able to donate a kidney.
“I dropped the laundry basket and fell to my knees,” she said, tears in her eyes. “We get our dad back, really, because he isn’t his normal self.”
Dave Gosch said before his diagnosis, he had something of a phobia of doctors; he didn’t feel good for a year or two before finally seeing a specialist.
Gosch was a reporter at The Gazette from 1985 to 2000, covering stories around Eastern Iowa. He now works in media relations at Rockwell Collins, but has been on disability as he deals with his disease.
He remembers his boss telling him to go home because he was wheezing — his body was trying to expel toxins through his lungs because his kidney could no longer filter them from his blood.
When he first came in to see Dr. Fadi Yacoub at Mercy Dialysis in Cedar Rapids in May 2016, “I barely walked into his office, and he sent me to the hospital right away,” Gosch said.
“The doctor said, ‘there’s no reason you should be alive,’” Jessi Gosch recalled.
The complications of the disease have been many. Along with fatigue, he has had a staph infection in his blood, seizures and cysts on his back that had to be biopsied, though they were thankfully benign.
“We dodged a lot of bullets,” Yacoub said.
Without a live donor, the average time people spend on the waiting list for a kidney is three to five years, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Mercy Dialysis, part of Mercy Medical Center, currently sees about 140 patients, about 20 of whom are waiting for a transplant, with more being evaluated to see if they qualify. People who receive kidneys from a living donor generally have better outcomes than those who get organs from a deceased donor.
“We love people to donate. A living donor gives someone a great gift,” Yacoub said.
Every night, for nine hours, Gosch is hooked up to a dialysis machine in his home while he sleeps.
“When you’re on dialysis, you try not to think ahead to the next day,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve felt normal in years.”
Weber said she’s not nervous about the surgery, set for Nov. 30. She tried to explain what made her volunteer.
“I’m not scared. I’m super excited,” she said. “There was just something telling me I could give more with my life if I could give my kidney,”
She has three children, — 16-year-old twins and a 14-year old son. She said she wants to set an example for them.
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“I want my kids to just realize there’s more than my life. I can save a person’s life,” she said.
Gosch said he is in awe of what she’s doing.
“It’s a selfless act. I would have to really look inside my soul to see if I would do that for someone else. It’s a hard question. It’s why I get really emotional when I think about it,” he said. “It’s going to be life changing. Most people don’t have life changing things happen to them.”
They’re planning a get-together, open to the public, from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at Emil’s Hideaway, 222 Glenbrook Drive SE, Cedar Rapids. They want their friends and families to meet and get to know each other before the surgery, which will be covered by Gosch’s insurance.
“I think all of us are connected now, forever,” Gosch said.
Weber wasn’t the only one who responded to Jessi Gosch’s Facebook post. Another teacher had also volunteered.
“The power of social media — I never came out and said I was asking — people just came forward,” Jessi Gosch said.
The support of friends and family has extended beyond those offers to help with everything from emotional support to meals.
“You realize you’re not alone,” Dave Gosch said. “It’s been a nice village of people who have come to my help, and this is the ultimate ... a stranger who has come to my aid and is a real angel. I hope I can give back when I recover.”
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