As Denise Pac watched her husband’s health decline, she never thought that the answer to saving his life could be inside her.
Dale Pac was on multiple waiting lists for a new kidney, but after two years, he was just getting sicker. The high school sweethearts had taken a blood test in chemistry class 30 years ago and thought there was no way they could be a match, but a hospital visit showed them that Denise Pac was a potential match for a kidney donation. They were told the odds were 1 in 100,000 for a married couple, but decided to try.
After six months of rigorous testing, they discovered that not only were they a perfect blood and tissue match, but that all this testing had most likely saved Denise’s life as well.
“The found a pre-cancerous growth in one of my screenings,” Denise said. “He saved my life too.”
They celebrated their one-year anniversary of their double surgery on November 1.
“I have my husband back,” Denise told The Federal Way Mirror newspaper in an interview.
The couple grew up in Federal Way and started dating when they were 16 and attending Federal Way High School together. They would eventually raise four children, some of whom even attended the same school.
Their daughter Alleah Pac said the day of her parents’ double surgery was a hard one.
“It was so scary to have both of our parents under at the same time, just sitting there waiting and waiting,” she said.
Alleah Pac remembers the moment her mother’s surgeon came out to update the family.
“The first thing he said was that my mom’s kidney was beautiful,” Alleah said.
Dale and Denise Pac were put in rooms to recover across the hallway in the hospital from each other, and within a month of the surgery, Dale said he was already feeling so much better than before.
After a grueling few years including Dale’s diagnosis of kidney failure, the loss of Denise’s father, Denise’s role as an E.R. nurse during a global pandemic and the double surgery, the Federal Way couple is celebrating being on the other side of these challenges.
Their first date was to a mud wrestling competition at the high school, and the first time they noticed each other was no less dramatic. Denise had joined a “Powderpuff” football team out of a love of sports, though she was disappointed the girls team couldn’t tackle like she did when she played the game with her brothers and neighborhood boys.
The shoes she wore on the first day of practice were too slippery for the sport and she remembers Dale telling her to try taking them off. He was surprised when she actually did and played the rest of the day barefoot. She also caught his eye when he “threw this long bomb,” and she caught the ball from across the field. She said she fell, but he was still impressed.
These days they love attending sports games and fondly reminiscing over the linguica pizza they would get from Pietro’s in Federal Way after every game. The restaurant is now the Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse and has become another of their many beloved memories in their beloved city.
As the sickness worsened, it got in the way of much of their family fun. Denise and their children did their best to make sure they could still enjoy life though. Dale wasn’t allowed to carry more than 20 pounds, so his children were often the ones to load up the 40-pound boxes of his dialysis equipment into the trailer to go camping.
Now that he has recovered, he can even get on a plane without having to worry about lugging around the lifesaving but extensive machinery. It kept him alive while he waited for a new kidney, but also almost stopped him from being able to receive one.
The type of dialysis he received caused an internal bleed that could have kicked him off the transplant list. He also could have been ineligible if he had contracted COVID, which was a real fear with a spouse who was a charge nurse in an emergency room.
“I would come home and take everything off in the garage and get right in the shower,” she said. Dale remembers the deep marks on her face each night from the mask and how dehydrated she would get when PPE stocks were low and she couldn’t afford to waste a mask on getting a drink of water.
Thankfully by the time the couple received their surgeries to transfer the kidney, COVID restrictions had relaxed enough for their children to visit them.
Celebrating their year anniversary of the surgery and the unlikely odds of their lifesaving match, the couple is now happy and healthy and grateful for every moment.
“My dad has a whole new outlook now,” Alleah Pac said. “He’s back to his old self.” When it comes to their miraculous match, she said “it just shows they were literally meant to be.”