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Kidney Patient : 11th-Hour Recipient of Transplant Doing Fine

Times Staff Writer

Charles Ridgeway was well enough to enjoy reading the newspapers Monday about his dramatic kidney transplant, his wife said.

“I told him, ‘You not only made the paper, but you made the front page,’ ” Betty Ridgeway said. “He read the papers, and he was very alert, and he was asking how the kids were. The doctors are just real pleased about his progress today (Monday).”

The 47-year-old Anaheim man made headlines because of heroic efforts to find him and rush him to Santa Ana for the transplant. When a rare donor kidney matching Ridgeway’s blood type became available Saturday night, he, his wife, and their daughter, Robin, 25, were 200 miles away, camping with a motor home in a remote area of Imperial County, near the Colorado River.

Found at Campground

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Through the efforts of the couple’s son, Matt, 23, the Orange County Search and Rescue team and KNX-radio helicopter pilot-reporter Bob Tur, Ridgeway was found at the campground and flown back to Orange County early Sunday morning. He was rushed into Western Medical Center-Santa Ana for the transplant, with just 6 hours left before the donor kidney would have become unusable.

“I talked to him Sunday after the operation, but he was still out of it and groggy because of the medication,” Betty Ridgeway said. “But this morning (Monday), he was very alert, and he was even moving his legs around on the bed. We’re all just very grateful to those who helped get him here.

“Charles told our son, ‘Matt, you and Bob Tur are my heroes.’ ”

Matt Ridgeway found his father’s campground early Sunday by driving frantically from Orange County to the area. Tur spotted Matt Ridgeway in the area and picked him up, then the son directed the chopper to his father’s encampment. The helicopter got the patient to an Orange County Search and Rescue plane, which then flew Ridgeway to John Wayne Airport early Sunday.

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Betty Ridgeway said her husband knew that an electronic beeper he carried would be beyond range at the campground. “But we had made arrangements for calls to come to the store at the campground” in the event a donor kidney became available, she said.

She added that confusion in finding them at the campground resulted from a misunderstanding over where they had parked their motor home for the night.

Charles Ridgeway, an accounting manager for Rockwell International in Anaheim, suffers from a genetic disorder that causes cysts to grow on his kidneys, eventually strangling the organs, his wife said.

“He first learned about it in 1976, when we were in Iran for Rockwell, and he had an annual physical there,” she said. “The doctor said he had about 10 years left before his kidneys failed. It turned out that he had about 12 years because it was only in January of this year that he had to start dialysis, and he went on the national list (seeking) kidney donors.”

A donor with Ridgeway’s B-positive blood type, found in about 15% of the population, became available Saturday night. The kidney came from a deceased teen-aged girl, whose identity was not made public.

‘We Are Very Grateful’

“We don’t know anything about the donor,” Betty Ridgeway said. “It’s so sad. Someone’s misfortune became our good fortune. We are very grateful.”

Rose Ayala, spokeswoman for Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, said Monday that Ridgeway’s body is showing no signs of rejecting his new kidney. “He is still in the intensive care unit, and his condition has been upgraded from critical to serious,” Ayala said. “He is stable, and his family has been here with him.”

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Betty Ridgeway said Monday that her husband’s airlift made her thankful to all involved. But the drama also had an emotional toll, she said: “It all happened so quickly. And when the helicopter left, I just broke down and cried.”


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