Oregon teacher, coach receives kidney from pastor

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — C.A. Rath feels great these days — enough so that he can keep up with a class of 25 fourth-graders running around the gym.

Less than three months after receiving a kidney transplant, he returned to work Oct. 31 at Philomath Elementary School, where he has been a physical education teacher for 22 years.

Rath, 46, is known for being a prankster, so being in front of students for the first time this year on Halloween was ideal.

Clad in a safari hat, an outdoorsy shirt, khaki shorts and hiking boots, Rath was portraying a birdwatcher. He even had a pair of binoculars hanging around his neck.

"It feels great to be back," Rath said, smiling. "Being around kids: What could be more fun?"

After what he's been through the past 10 years, Rath has plenty to smile about.

After becoming seriously ill in 2001, Rath was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, a kidney disorder caused by deposits of the protein immunoglobulin A inside the glomeruli, which are small structures within the kidney.

Glomeruli normally filter wastes and excess water from the blood and send them to the bladder as urine. The IgA protein prevents this filtering process. There is no known cure for IgA nephropathy.

Rath, a longtime football, wrestling and baseball coach in Philomath, stepped down as the head football coach at Philomath High School in 2002 because of the diagnosis. He continued to serve as an assistant baseball coach for the Warriors until 2008.

Rath said his doctor suspected he had the disorder for at least four years before its being diagnosed.

About three and half years ago, the disorder had advanced to the point that Rath was forced to go on dialysis, a process that artificially filters blood by removing excess water and waste. At first, he was able to do dialysis treatments at home.

After 18 months, though, he had to switch to a different type of dialysis treatment that required him to visit a clinic in Albany three times a week. Rath said each session took about three hours.

"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

Aaron Rutledge, the associate pastor at Living Faith Community Church in Philomath, was sitting at a coffee shop this summer when that Bible verse struck home.

"I started thinking about that verse and about C.A.," Rutledge recalled. "I knew he wasn't doing well, and I thought I should help him in any way I could."

Rutledge said he understood the risks associated with kidney transplants. He's 36 and has two children. Donating one of his kidneys to Rath meant that he couldn't be a donor if one of his own kids ever needed a transplant.

"We had a family talk," Rutledge said. "They supported my decision. They knew it was something I had to do. I think knowing that my family was OK with it was a relief to C.A.'s family, too."

Rutledge's wife, Krystal, works at Philomath Elementary. His two children, Abby and Toby, both attend the school, where Rath is their P.E. teacher.

As it turns out, Rutledge was a good match for Rath. They share the same blood type.

However, Rutledge wasn't the only person who offered to donate a kidney. Rath said two other people had the same idea.

John Williams, Philomath High School's girls soccer coach, and Wendy Phelps, the wife of Philomath Fire Chief Tom Phelps, both offered to donate a kidney, but neither was as good a match as Rutledge.

"That three people stepped up to help me blows me away," Rath said. "It shows what a great community Philomath is. I'm so humbled and grateful for their support."

The kidney transplant was performed Aug. 26 at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. The operation took about eight hours. Rutledge spent six days at OHSU recovering; Rath stayed there for 10 days.

Rath gets emotional when he talks about the impact of the kidney transplant, especially on his children. Daughter Anzi is a freshman at Philomath High, and son Tony is a sixth-grader at Philomath Middle School.

Rath said there were times because of his dialysis treatments that he'd arrive late to Tony's wrestling matches, or even miss them completely. Last holiday season, the simple task of decorating the Christmas tree took more than an hour.

Fast-forward to several weeks ago, when he was able to clean out a drain pipe on his house in minutes.

"It's an incredible gift that Aaron gave me," Rath said. "It's given me my life back. My children have their dad back. I feel incredibly blessed."

Merry Rath said her husband always did his best to participate in family activities because he has a high tolerance for pain and fatigue. However, there were times when his spirits weren't high.

"He'd say he was fine because he doesn't like making a fuss and having people worry about him," Merry Rath said. "But I know there were days when it was difficult for him. It seemed like he was struggling to enjoy things."

Rath and his wife have been overwhelmed by the support they have received from the Philomath School District and the community.

A rummage sale was organized by Living Faith Community Church to raise money for the family. Community members offered to pick up Anzi and Tony from school and sports practices while their father was recovering.

"I never knew how connected we were to this community," Merry Rath said. "So many people care about C.A. They were asking how he was doing and offering to help in any way they could. I can't even find the words to describe how I feel."

One of the benefits of being off dialysis is that Rath is able to eat and drink just about anything he wants. Before the transplant, his diet was severely limited, but now he can have his favorite things again.

"I love milk," Rath said with a laugh. "I hadn't had a glass of milk in three years. That was hard."

Rath, who is a private person by nature, said he hopes that sharing his story will encourage more people to become organ donors.

"Look at what happened to me," Rath said. "You never know what might happen. You could save someone's life. That's why it's important to donate. It really is an amazing gift."

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