By Julie Ritzer Ross
There’s an old adage that warns people to be careful what they wish for, because they might get it—and, as implied, possibly regret it later. But Nick Sauter is unconcerned that this will happen to him, given that he desperately needs to see his wish—to be the recipient of a kidney from a living donor—come true.
An alumna of Passaic Valley High School, Sauter, age 63, later served as a physical education teacher, football and track coach, athletic director and, immediately prior to his retirement, vice principal.
Sauter attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick on a full scholarship, graduating in 1977. While at Rutgers, he played football for the Scarlet Knights and was on the roster as an offensive lineman when the team completed an undefeated season in 1976. Injuries sustained during his football years led to several neck and back surgeries and, eventually, forced Sauter to seek pain relief by taking prescription anti-inflammatory medications. In early 2017, he learned that the medications had caused end-stage renal failure (also known as end-stage kidney disease) and that he would need to undergo dialysis three times a week until a kidney donor was found.
Then, 18 months ago, Sauter was dealt another blow: he developed a blood infection that traveled to his 21-year-old knee replacement. The search for a kidney had to be put on hold while he sustained two additional surgeries on his knee and endured three months of physical therapy in addition to thrice-weekly dialysis. Now, he is once again ready and eager to find a healthy living kidney donor, and time is of the essence.
“It has to be a living donor, because in N.J., the wait for a kidney from a cadaver donor is five to six years,” Sauter says.
“When you’re in end-stage kidney failure, as I am, you don’t have that kind of time,” Sauter explains. He does have two options for his potential kidney transplant: a direct donation, or paired donation through a statewide living donor kidney exchange program. In a paired kidney donation, an individual who wants to donate a kidney to a particular patient, but cannot because of incompatibilities (for example, blood type incompatibilities) instead donates a kidney to a second patient for whom it is appropriate. The first patient then gets a kidney from the second patient’s donor. RWJBarnabas Health/Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, where Sauter is a dialysis patient and the hospital at which he would receive a kidney transplant, participates in the paired donor program.
Several family members and at least one close friend have been tested or have attempted to be tested to see whether they might be a direct donor, and two or three other individuals are in the midst of testing to see if they are a match. However, to date, health conditions and other factors, such as incompatible blood types, have interfered with the process. Sauter’s blood type is A negative, and his donor would need to have either that same blood type or blood types A positive, O positive, or O negative. As of early October, no possibility of a paired donation has surfaced.
Still Sauter, who admits to having his good and bad days, tries to remain positive, but dialysis is a grueling process that impacts his enjoyment and quality of life. He is still an active member of St. Agnes Episcopal Church in Little Falls, but can no longer assist with the church’s food pantry or help struggling local families. He has limited energy to enjoy his family.
“For the past 18 months, our lives have been altered,” says Sauter’s high school sweetheart and wife of 41 years, Debbie, with whom he lives in her childhood home in Little Falls and who serves as his caregiver.
“Two years ago, I retired from the Little Falls Board of Education after 27 years there,” she says. “We were looking forward to enjoying retirement, but four hours of dialysis, three times a day puts a limit on what we can do, especially in terms of vacation. We can’t leave the country. We can travel to other states, but we have to keep up with the dialysis, so we haven’t done that much. We do have a condominium on Long Beach Island, which we try to enjoy with the family as much as possible.”
The couple has two children, Nicole (Sauter) Dilkes, principal and curriculum coordinator of School No. 3 in Little Falls; and Kenneth Sauter, a network and telecommunications administrator at the County College of Morris in Randolph. They also have three grandchildren: 11-year-old Jocelynn and seven-year-old Devynn Dilkes, daughters of Nicole and her husband Dave Dilkes; and 18-month-old Declan, son of Kenneth and his wife, Jennifer.
Joceylynn and Devynn are very much aware that their “Pop Pop” is in need of a kidney and “pray that he gets one really soon,” states Donna Tissot, Debbie’s sister.
Tissot is also retired and now serves as Sauter’s advocate, working tirelessly, Sauter says, to get the word out about his situation through traditional and social media. A Facebook page, “Nick Sauter Needs a Kidney,” has been established, and posts are added almost daily. Sauter and his family ask that members of Facebook not only “like” the page, but also share the posts to increase their visibility.
Sauter also states he appreciates the effort his family and friends have made to bring him closer to finding a kidney donor. To Tissot and to Debbie Sauter, it’s natural.
“We’re a very close family; there is nothing that we won’t do for one another…we support each other,” he says. “We cheer for each other. We have high hopes of making it happen.”
Sauter is also in awe of the dialysis technicians at St. Barnabas.
“They are the real heroes, working 12 to 13 hours a day, six days a week, to keep us alive,” he points out.
Despite what he and his family have endured throughout his illness, Sauter is as concerned about his fellow dialysis patients, and anyone in need of an organ transplant, as he is about himself. He tells the story of a fellow patient and close friend who one day, did not show up for his dialysis appointment. Sauter and other patients thought it was because he was going to be the recipient of a kidney, “but as it turns out, he didn’t get it and is still waiting. This is about everyone—not just me,” Sauter states.
Sauter also wants to make it clear that it is not harmful for healthy individuals to donate a kidney.
To find out more about donating a kidney for Sauter, contact Tissot at (973) 714-7016 or Sauter’s donor coordinator, Donna Walton, at (973) 322-5047.