Gary Lewis takes a look under the hood with son Jeff, right, and their dog Stormee. Jeff gave his dad a kidney last year. Gary has operated an auto shop on Candlewood Drive NE for about 40 years. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

Of the Keizertimes

Not very many of us can say we’re sitting on the same spot running the business our father started some 40 years ago.

Even fewer can say that Dad is still there, largely in thanks to what we did.

Jeff Lewis, 49, fits the bill on both counts.

Last March he donated a kidney to his ailing father, 69-year-old Gary Lewis. A rare reaction to medication he took for rheumatoid arthritis ravaged his kidneys over about a 10-year period, leaving them with only 15 percent functionality.

“They told me I was one of 150 people in the United States this happened to,” Gary said of the drug.

The arthritis was bad enough, but the four-hour, thrice-weekly dialysis sessions made it almost impossible to enjoy life, never mind run a business. Jeff now runs the auto body shop his dad started on Candlewood Drive in the early 1970s. Their black lab Stormee patrols the grounds on some days.

“It doesn’t hurt, but you have to sit in that chair for four hours. It just drains you. Some days you feel good, sometimes you just want to go to bed,” Gary said. “It’s monotonous, like having a job you don’t like.”

Watching his dad suffer was almost too much for Jeff to take; he still gets emotional when he talks about watching his mom die in 2002.

“I wasn’t going to lose another one so if I could give up something to keep him alive as long as I can, I needed to do it – the good Lord told me to do it,” said Jeff Lewis.

His stepsister was actually a closer match for a kidney transplant than he was, but she had had mononucleosis, and doctors preferred a kidney that wasn’t carrying the virus. It says a lot about Gary that three other people volunteered, but Jeff felt it was a duty.

Gary had to have a few other medical procedures prior to the transplant, and a bout with influenza delayed the surgery by a month. Finally the two went into Oregon Health and Science University Hospital together on March 12, 2010.

Jeff came out three days later, seven pounds lighter and suffering only “pretty good pain in my stomach and side.” Now the sole risk to Jeff is if he takes a hard hit to the stomach.

Worth every bit of seeing his dad looking better than he had in years.

Jeff adjusted his diet to lose even more weight, drinking lots more water and cutting back on protein. And what about dad?

“Two years ago I’d say I’m gonna go home and lie down,” Gary said. “Now I’ve got energy and I’m anxious to do things. I can walk for long periods of time.”

The 30 or so pills a day beats the heck out of going in for dialysis three times a week, Gary said. He doesn’t blame Enbrel, the brand name of his arthritis medication, for his illness, saying it did what it was supposed to do as far as relieving arthritis symptoms.

He’s not on that anymore; in fact, a much more welcome side effect came with the cornucopia of pills he has to take daily.

“One of the drugs I’m taking for my kidney made that pain go away,” Gary said. “The doctors still haven’t figured that one out.”