Family celebrates 30 years of life after kidney transplant
Keith Lemerise is 51 years old. He has a wife, two kids and publishes two magazines on the Seacoast. He also has one of his brother’s kidneys, which he received 30 years ago during his college days.
Lemerise was attending the University of Hawaii in 1983 when he started to feel unwell. The doctors checked him and ran tests, diagnosing him with kidney disease at the age of 21.
He needed a kidney transplant, and doctors told him his kidneys would fail anywhere between six weeks and six months, but to return to as normal a life as possible while the tests were being done.
“I said, ‘OK, this happened. Let’s get it done,'” Lemerise said.
Lemerise returned to college and waited for his surgery.
“Things really didn’t happen that fast,” he said.
Finally, the doctors revealed that his mother, Louise, and his younger brother, Gregg, were matches.
“When we found out somebody could donate, I wanted to be the one to do it,” Gregg Lemerise said. “I don’t even think about it, I don’t feel anything, just the scar. The surgery is so commonplace now,” Keith Lemerise said. You only need one kidney to live.”
Unfortunately, the family did not know how they were going to pay for the surgery.
“Back then, the medical expenses weren’t covered,” he said.
In order to help alleviate the family’s financial strain with the surgery, friends Joyce Grandmaison and June Bean co-chaired a fund-raiser spanning not only Hampton, but much of the Seacoast.
“It was awesome, everybody contributed,” Bean said. “I’m very proud of the way the town responded for the family.”
The family received $32,000 through restaurants and goodwill donations, and raffle tickets thanks to the efforts of the women.
“It feels really nice that the Lemerise family called us back to come and celebrate,” Grandmaison said.
Lemerise said that he thinks his was the first, big benefit of its kind in the area.
The surgery took place on April 26, 1984, and Keith had both of his kidneys taken out and his brother had one taken out to donate to him.
His doctors told him that the kidney was an average match and that it should last for 12 years and he had to remain on medication. Lemerise talked with his doctors and chose low-impact medications in order to make his new kidney last longer.
After his transplant, he recovered by making weekend trips for tests over the summer. One of his friends would visit, and in September he invited Lemerise to a party.
There he met his wife, Kathy. They got married in 1991 and soon had two children, Alex and Sophie.
Years later, his doctor told him that he “got an excellent match” from his brother instead of just an average one and that he chose the right medications.
Now, Lemerise’s kidney should be set for the rest of his life.
“I’m looking forward to life without that hanging over my head,” he said, “(and to) enjoy my family and my friends.”
While he said he sometimes still thinks about what would happen if his body rejects the kidney such as whom he would take a new one from, he quickly shakes the thought from his head.
“I think having a good, positive outlook is a good way to do it,” he said.
Now, every anniversary of the surgery, the brothers celebrate by going out to dinner or attending concerts.
Three decades of celebrations have led to a gathering with his family and friends at The Old Salt Restaurant in Hampton to celebrate the milestone. They ate, talked and watched a video of Boston Channel Five’s coverage of the surgery, which took place while Lemerise was in college.
His father, Bernie, and mother, Louise, reminisced about the surgery and fund-raiser at the party.
“The thing that really helped was the community coming together,” Bernie Lemerise said. “It’s something we’ll never forget.”
Louise then looked over at her oldest son and said, “He’s doing great.”
Today, Lemerise is the publisher of Taste of the Seacoast and Coastal Home.
After 30 years of having his brother’s kidney and living his life, Lemerise said he is looking forward to more healthy years.
“I’ll take another 30,” he said.