, Newburyport, MA

April 24, 2013

Dreaming of a donor

Silliker uses social media in search for kidney


---- — It’s said that life offers many learning experiences, and Bil Silliker is engaged in one of the most vivid of his 47 years: how to find a new kidney for himself.

Silliker, married and the father of three, learned he had kidney disease about four years ago.

He describes himself as “healthy, feeling good,” and he works a full week as a CAD technician in the plumbing and mechanical sector of the construction industry.

But his tests haven’t been good lately, and there could be a time when he begins to need dialysis. So now, he is looking for a new kidney through a variety of online techniques.

Medical officials around the country note that April is Donate Life month in the U.S. for all of the key organs that help others stay alive.

Kidney transplantation involves obtaining a kidney from a cadaver or a living donor.

Living-donor renal transplants could come from a member of the family, friends or anonymous donors. An organ from a cadaver often comes as a result of paperwork designating an individual as a donor.

There are currently 96,080 individuals on the waiting list for a kidney, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing.

Silliker has been using Facebook to get the word out that he is looking for a kidney. His wife, Meg, has alerted members of her own network.

“My wife has friends on Facebook, many more than I,” said Silliker, who has five siblings. “The process is beginning.”

Silliker, who formerly ran a tea shop on Middle Street, appears to be taking a low-key approach to the search.

His online blog is titled “Diary of a Wimpy Kidney Disease” and he calls an entry “just another day in the life of a regular guy with kidney disease.”

He sometimes signs off his online messages by saying, “I’m Bil... and I’ve got kidney disease.”

One lesson the Purchase Street resident would teach others is that donors are needed throughout the country.

Since “live” donation is considered more efficacious than receiving from a dead person, Silliker, whose blood is type A, is asking friends and family members to consider donation if they are healthy.

Medical authorities say that because of the advance of drugs and novel medications, a donor does not have to be a “perfect” match with the recipient.

“I would like to encourage donation even if the donor isn’t giving it to me,” he said. “There is a great need for donors, with thousands of people on waiting lists.

“As I learn more about my own condition, I would hope to inform others how important it is to encourage donation of kidneys.”

Silliker says that several friends and family members are being tested. Results have not been returned, nor will he necessarily know who was being tested.

Brenda Reed, a pre-transplant nurse coordinator in the Department of Transplantation at Lahey Clinic where Silliker is being treated, said that acquiring a kidney is much preferable to dialysis.

“Dialysis keeps our patients alive,” said Reed, “but it is hard on the body. For those getting treatments three days a week, four hours a day, it can leave the patient very tired.

“Transplantation of a kidney enables so many people to continue. People can’t donate livers — they only have one. With kidneys, there is much more chance for success.”

One local family who reports an excellent outcome to their inter-family donation is the Thomas clan on Merrimac Street.

Justin Thomas, then 31, received a kidney from his father, Richard, then 67, in August of 2010.

Both emerged in full health to continue their active lives.

“I feel great today,” said Justin Thomas, a TV producer and researcher. “I had some bad months after the surgery, but that was related to viruses, not the operation itself. My father feels fine, too. The new kidney enabled me to resume my life, and I have energy and new projects.”

Silliker, though, is just starting his search.

And at the end of the day, he wants to spread the word that donors are needed around the country, not for him necessarily but for thousands who are waiting.

“You have two kidneys,” he says. “You only need one.”