Kidney recipient worries about ongoing drug expenses

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on April 25, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 25 at 10:39 PM

LEWISVILLE — Five-year-old Sean Smith jumps from one toy to another in the front yard of his Highland Village home. His dad smiles broadly watching him. So does the lady in the yard with them, Marie Bell.

Sean can't sit still for very long, but he is the glue holding together a new-found family.

"She's my sister — not half-sister, but whole sister — and she will forever be that," said Sean's father, Marshall Smith, talking about Bell.

One month ago, Bell gave Marshall Smith a kidney. Bell teaches kindergarten at Highland Village Elementary and Sean is one of her students.

"My fellow man needed me," she said. "I was going to answer that call."

Sean was late to Ms. Bell's class one day. His 14-year-old brother, Tyler, brought in a note to excuse the tardiness and told Ms. Bell about their dad's failing health.

She instantly knew she had to do something. Bell was tested, and was a perfect match to be a kidney donor.

The transplant surgery was a success.

"I feel fresh," Smith said at his home on Wednesday. "I feel like I just woke up, stepped outside, and there's morning dew all over the place, and I'm running through the dew, and it feels real good."

Yet as perfect as everything seems one month after the transplant, there is still a real concern: The cost of staying healthy.

Anti-rejection medication is helping Smith's body learn to accept Bell's kidney, yet Medicare will only cover that medication for three years. If he stops taking it, his body could reject the kidney, leading to the need for more dialysis and perhaps even another transplant.

"I have been concerned about whether I was going to be able to afford the medication," Smith said.

His congressman, U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Lewisville), is proposing legislation to extend that coverage.

House Resolution 2969 would not extend full Medicare benefits to patients, but it would permit coverage for anti-rejection medication. Burgess said Medicare spends an average of $71,000 per year per dialysis patient. He says extending the anti-rejection medication would keep people off dialysis, and would instead cost $17,000 per year per patient.

That is a savings of $54,000 per year per patient. House Resolution 2969 remains in a subcommittee.

Bell returns to Sean and the rest of her kindergarten class next week. She said she is slightly sore, but spiritually strong.

"I just did what I thought was right," she said.

Smith is amazed by how it all came together.

"It was like a puzzle, a giant puzzle," he said. "God just took and put all the pieces together, and just made it work."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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