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Coronavirus

'I literally looked like a pregnant man'

Pandemic delayed transplant testing for Joliet diabetic in kidney failure

Noah Tovar of Joliet didn’t have the SARS-CoV-2. But the pandemic delayed the final test he needed to on the transplant list.
Noah Tovar of Joliet didn’t have the SARS-CoV-2. But the pandemic delayed the final test he needed to on the transplant list.

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Noah Tovar of Joliet didn’t have the SARS-CoV-2.

But the pandemic still affected his access to health care.

Tovar, 41, of Joliet, has type 1 diabetes and began peritoneal dialysis in September.

He needs a double transplant – pancreas and kidney– but he had to delay the last test until just last week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everything was chaotic,” Tovar said. “They (Northwestern Memorial Hospital) didn’t want to risk it, so it had to be put off for a couple of months.”

That last test was a CT scan of his lungs. He received the results on Monday morning. And now he needs another test.

"There's a tiny spot on my lungs," Tovar said in a text message. "They want to go in with a camera and take a sample to find out exactly what it is."

Tovar said he’s also had stress tests, urology tests and neurology tests.

“They test everything,” Tovar said. “They want to make sure you can physically endure that kind of surgery.”

Tovar said Northwestern told him the wait for both a pancreas and kidney is one to three years.

But once he’s cleared for the transplant list, he’ll be listed according to the first date of his dialysis treatment: Sept. 6.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, African Americans have three times the amount of kidney failure than whites.

And while African Americans only represent 13.2% of the U.S. population, more than 35% receive dialysis for kidney failure – with diabetes as the primary cause, the foundation said.

Although whites in the U.S. are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than African Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans, a family history of this autoimmune disease is a strong risk factor, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Tovar definitely had the family history. His mother was 9 at the time of her diagnosis and she went on dialysis when Tovar was 14.

Her doctor told her she had five to six-year life expectancy if she did not receive a kidney transplant. Other health issues interfered, and Tovar’s mother never did receive that kidney, Tovar said.

“I never knew what it was like until I went through it myself,” Tovar said.

Nevertheless, she lived another 14 years. And now Tovar has a chance at a renewed health and a diabetes-free lifestyle if he receives the double transplant.

“It’s amazing how much science and medicine has come,” Tovar said.

Tovar wasn’t diagnosed with type 1 diabetes until his early 20s. He unexpectedly started losing weight, vomiting and wetting the bed, Tovar said. So he went to the hospital.

“My blood sugar was 688,” Tovar said. “They said if it had gotten higher than that, I would not be conscious.”

In 2018 after a bout with kidney stones, Tovar began retaining fluid. A year later, the retention was “so out of hand, I literally looked like a pregnant man,” Tovar said.

When he started having trouble breathing, he went to the hospital.

“To keep the fluid off, I needed to do dialysis,” Tovar said. “I went into the hospital at 275 pounds and in a week, I was down to 216 pounds. I started feeling better.”

Exercise-wise, Tovar is only allowed to walk, which he likes to do with his three stepchildren (ages 9, 5 and 4) in tow. But sometimes even walking “is a chore,” he said.

“Some days I feel great and the next day it’s almost like I don’t have the energy to get out of bed," Tovar said.

Tovar hopes his story will inspire people to donate and to take good care of their own health, especially if they have a chronic condition.

“No one is immune to complications,” Tovar said.

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