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Bergan’s Heart Aches for His Kidney Donor

Jeff Bergan checks out of St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Los Angeles today with a third kidney in his body and a second chance at life.

A lengthy scar marks the spot on the left side of his abdomen where Dr. Thomas Bogaard implanted the organ during an operation Sept. 22. If all goes as expected, the new kidney will do what Bergan’s own pair of kidneys could not--filter the toxins in his body.

With the surgery comes varying degrees of hurt. His abdomen is tender, as if there were a deep bruise there. When he sits up too quickly, he feels a stab of pain. But it’s his heart that aches the most--all for the family of David Leidal, a 14-year-old freshman at University High School who was fatally injured Sept. 20 when struck by a car while riding his bicycle to school.

It is Leidal’s kidney that does the work for Bergan’s body. And as sad fate would have it, there could be no better match.

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Leidal was a lineman for the University freshman team. Bergan spent much of this season as a volunteer coach for the freshman football team at Mission Viejo High School.

Leidal, whose class portrait is that of a young teen-ager with a playful smirk and a gentle face, was known as a hard worker on the field. Bergan was known for similar traits during his wrestling and football playing days at Mission Viejo. He graduated in 1981.

Leidal adored his coaches, respected them. Bergan wants to be a full-time coach someday, which tells you how much he loves the profession. You get the feeling that the two of them would have gotten along just fine: the aspiring lineman . . . the aspiring coach.

Two weeks ago, Bergan attended a game between the University and Mission Viejo freshmen teams. Leidal was there, of course. “But I didn’t see him play,” Bergan said. “I watched the game, but I didn’t know Leidal’s number or anything.” Now he does.

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As you might expect, Bergan hasn’t entirely sorted out his emotions. After all, there have been so many to contend with: The anger that comes with learning that your kidneys no longer function, that your heart is weakening under the pressure of pumping tainted blood; the fear and desperation that comes with waiting for a suitable donor; the hope that your thrice-weekly, three-hour dialysis visits will soon end; the joy that comes with a successful transplant; and, in this case, the sadness of knowing how the donation came about.

“You tell yourself, ‘For me to live, someone has to die,’ ” Bergan said. “It’s a little sick to have to think that way.”

Bergan, 26, waited about 2 1/2 years for a kidney. So anxious was he, that Bergan kept a beeper clipped to his shirt collar or his pants pocket whenever he left his house. Late in the afternoon on Sept. 21, while sitting in the Mission Viejo High coaches’ office, it made its unmistakable noise.

At first, Bergan wasn’t sure what he had heard. While the sound may have surprised him, the implications surely must have overwhelmed him. Time and time again, Bergan had tested the beeper at home, checking the batteries, making sure it always beeped true. Now he didn’t know how to react, what sounds to believe.

Bergan called the answering service. After a 10-minute wait, he was connected to a hospital official who said a kidney had become available. By 8:30 that evening, Bergan had been admitted to the hospital. The next morning, after tests had confirmed the kidney’s suitability, Bergan was wheeled down to the operating room. Nine days later, he gets to go home. New kidney. New life.

“I don’t think it’s fully hit me at the moment,” Bergan said. “Right now, I’m back to being a normal, healthy person. When I get home, it will hit me that way. Right now, I’m just glad everything is working OK.”

The doctors say the transplant should lessen the strain on the heart. Still, Bergan will have to alter his diet and begin a lifetime regimen of taking cyclosporine, an anti-infection, anti-rejection drug commonly used in these operations.

Bergan can live with that. He plans to return to coaching by December, in time for wrestling season. If things go better than expected, he might even be back for the end of the football season. Re-enrollment at Cal State Fullerton, where he majors in secondary education, is a must, as is exercising, something he hasn’t been able to do since dialysis began.

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“I just basically want to get on with my life,” he said.

So off Bergan goes in what we can only hope is a long, happy experience. Too bad he couldn’t have met David Leidal; there was something he wanted to tell him.

“I’d be thankful,” he said. “I wouldn’t know what to say to him. I’m just very, very thankful . . . that he wanted to do something for somebody else.”


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