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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Man donates kidney to former schoolmate he barely knows

Dwight Erickson (left), Scott DeMent (center) and Scott's son Ryan DeMent (right) decorate one of Ericson's 14 Christmas trees for his annual Christmas party. This past April Ericson donated his kidney to DeMent. 

(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

Dwight Erickson (left), Scott DeMent (center) and Scott's son Ryan DeMent (right) decorate one of Ericson's 14 Christmas trees for his annual Christmas party. This past April Ericson donated his kidney to DeMent. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

Maybe it makes sense, but only if you don’t know all the facts.

Donating a kidney to an old friend, a schoolyard buddy, a kid whose back you always had?

Well, sure. We all like to think we’d do that.

Then you learn that Dwight Erickson and Scott De Ment barely knew one another while growing up in Pennsylvania. You find out they shared homerooms together, the first letter of their surnames much closer than they ever were.

Erickson sometimes sat behind De Ment through the 1970s and ’80s, growing familiar with the back of his head. They hung in different circles,

one a jock, the other artsy, and then Erickson moved here, to New London, hundreds of miles from the kid he had nothing to do with in the first place.

“When he called me and told me he wanted to give me a kidney, I explained to him that there were a lot of procedures involved and this can’t happen,” De Ment explained by phone. “I told him I thought he was awesome for the offer, and he said, ‘No, you don’t understand, you’re going to get my kidney.’ ”

De Ment has Erickson’s kidney, transplanted last April in a Philadelphia hospital. He had suffered from something called polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder marked by the growth of cysts on one or both kidneys. Without a transplant, the kidneys are smothered and life is taken.

Both donor and donee are doing fine, and, in fact, spent this weekend together, celebrating Christmas at Erickson’s annual holiday bash, with 60 Santas and 14 full-size Christmas trees and 30 smaller trees and lights and 70 friends and, of course, a story about how a man saved another man’s life, a man who held no special place in Erickson’s life.

Until now.

“I felt compelled,” Erickson said. “There are always chances of problems during any operation, but you can change someone’s life with little impact on yourself.”

The impact on De Ment, a car salesman in a small rural town in Pennsylvania called Telford, was summed up nicely by his wife, Barbara. She promised herself she wouldn’t cry when talking about what happened, then cried anyway and said, “He saved my family’s life, he saved our home, he saved everything.”

Which inevitably brings us full circle, back to the question of why. The two boys, growing up in Warrington, a town of farms and little industry, ran with different crowds. Erickson was a jock, playing football and baseball in the empty lot across the street from his house, shooting hoops in his backyard, and later playing a year of college football, as a freshman at Liberty University in Virginia.

De Ment? He liked art class, things like ceramics and painting.

“I knew him growing up as a cordial acquaintance,” Erickson said. “He was a great guy, always had a smile, but I was into sports; he wasn’t.”

Erickson moved here 25 years ago. He’s the divorced father of two sons, an installation project manager for a company that makes health-care and operating-room equipment.

De Ment stayed near the old neighborhood. He has a son and sells cars. His kidney diagnosis came 15 years ago, after he felt pain in his chest. A rumbling he called it.

De Ment was told the disease was slow moving, that he’d have to worry about it somewhere down the road. Barbara was six months pregnant at the time. De Ment began to suffer panic attacks, especially while driving, anxiety that needed medication.

And when De Ment learned last year that he needed dialysis or a new kidney, one or the other to save his life, his world shook. After all, De Ment’s father had had the same illness, as had his aunt. He remembered the dialysis, the exhaustion, the diabetes, the effect it had on their lives.

“This was something I had always dreaded and prayed every day that I would never have to go on dialysis,” De Ment said.

Then, while he was on a waiting list for a donor, came his 30th high school reunion, in Doylestown, Pa., the one that changed lives.

De Ment and Erickson stood next to each other on the buffet line, their name tags breaking the ice and paving the way for conversation.

They talked about their wives, their jobs, their kids, their lives.

De Ment never said a word about his health.

“I overheard others talking who knew him better,” Erickson said. “I said, ‘Scott, I thought you said you were doing great, and I heard something about your kidney.’ He said, ‘Other than that, I’m doing great.’ He was more interested in finding out about people.”

And that, logic says, should have been that.

Good luck, Scott. Nice seeing you again, Scott.

Goodbye.

That’s not what happened. Instead, Erickson saw a post on Facebook, from the head of the high school alumni association, asking if someone could spare a kidney. Lots of factors would have to click into place, of course, things like the right blood type and high scores on psychological and stress tests.

All that worked out, and De Ment was told a donor had been found. That’s all he knew, though.

“We just couldn’t think who it was,” Barbara said. “Who could it be? Who could it be?”

Then, during last year’s holiday season, the jock called the artsy kid to tell him the news.

“I had been told to call him at 10 after 9,” Erickson said. “The phone rang like half a ring. He was ready for the call.”

Then again he wasn’t. Not from a classmate he never really knew. Not from someone whose girlfriend thought he was nuts. “You don’t even know him,” she had said. “And what if your kids need a kidney?”

Certainly valid concerns. But Erickson said his research told him that he’d be okay if the surgery went well, that he could live a normal life with one kidney. His faith helped, too. In fact, that’s a common denominator here.

“My faith takes care of me,” Erickson said.

“In hindsight,” added De Ment, “I believe it was God’s will.”

Nothing was going to stop Erickson from donating his kidney, and nothing was going to stop these two from meeting before – and since – the surgery. They had coffee and cookies in Pennsylvania last December, they skied here in February, they hiked there in October and they celebrated Christmas here, on Saturday.

In between, on April 11, Erickson and De Ment lay side by side in a Philly hospital, undergoing a six-hour procedure. De Ment spent two weeks in the hospital and missed three months of work. Erickson was back working within two weeks.

Now, their limitations are limited. No kick-boxing and no ibuprofen. That’s about it.

Traveling is fine, and that’s what De Ment, Barbara and their son, Ryan, did this weekend. They mingled with 70 of Erickson’s friends, some who knew the story, some who didn’t. Either way, eyes widened when guests learned of De Ment’s connection to the host.

“They all loved him,” Erickson said.

They ate catered food, like seafood chowder and pineapple skewers and tenderloin with horse radish on baguettes and cocktail weenies and shrimp. De Ment socialized, as though he’d known these people all his life.

That’s the way it feels between two ex-classmates who now share more than they ever could have imagined.

“We’ve talked about it a number of times, the friendship we were missing all these years,” Erickson said. “I wish I would have been friends with him earlier on.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@
cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@rayduckler.)

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