Maintaining oral health

Saturday, July 01, 2017 12:30 PM
Print this page E-mail this page

CMS partnership with Delta Dental encourages patients to take care of their oral health to improve overall health

by Kathy Jacoby, Marketing Director, Delta Dental of Colorado

Before starting her current role as CEO of Delta Dental of Colorado, Helen Drexler learned first-hand how closely tied oral health is to one’s overall health.

Her son Gary, who is 26 years old and lives in Denver, had gone to a doctor complaining of stomach issues following a family vacation last summer.  Within days, after a blood test, he ended up in the hospital diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening kidney disease called IgA nephropathy, also known as “Berger’s disease.”

His kidneys were shutting down, and a transplant was the only course of action.

“I remember walking up to the hospital bed, holding his hand and looking at him and telling him, ‘We’re going find you a kidney by your birthday,’” Helen Drexler said.

The hospital visit took place in August. Gary’s birthday was a few months away, on Nov. 21.

It was an ambitious goal. Finding a willing and qualified kidney donor is difficult, particularly for families like the Drexlers in which no immediate family member qualifies due to blood type or other issues. There are 3,000 people in Colorado on a waiting list for a kidney donation. About 120 Coloradans die every year waiting for a kidney donation.

By September, Drexler had decided to quit her job as an executive of a large health care company in Atlanta to become, as she jokingly puts it, “CEO of find my kid a kidney.”

Since he was little, Gary said, he has always shared a special relationship with his mom. The pair went to every “Harry Potter” movie premier – all eight movies – throughout his childhood. He recalls Helen and her mother taking him out of elementary school in Louisville, Colo., for the first in the series. Just this past summer, during a wedding celebration in San Diego, the family went to a local bookstore release of the latest of J.K. Rowling’s books.

Gary describes his mom as an activator, someone who makes a plan and sees it through to the end. And that’s exactly what she did.

“I said in my letter to all my friends and family when I was trying to find people to donate that there’s nothing like the power of the mother of a sick child,” Helen Drexler said. “Mothers of sick children are not to be reckoned with. They will move mountains to help their children.”

After contacting more than 150 friends, family members, co-workers and anyone else who would listen, Drexler said, the University of Colorado received a flood of calls from volunteers asking to be tested to see if they were a match for Gary.

By Gary’s birthday, the family had their donor.

The donor, Brian Boose, had worked with Helen in Atlanta years earlier. He had been one of the first to call CU to get tested. Brian flew out to Denver to meet Gary. A lifelong Ohio State University fan, Brian suggested he name the donated kidney “I-O.” Brian’s remaining kidney would be “O-H.” Put them together, and you get the fan chant song that fills the Ohio State football stadium every game, “O-H-I-O!”

The next step was preparing Gary for surgery. This is when the Drexler family got a first-hand lesson in the importance of oral health.

“You have to have a very healthy system, because you’re about to go through a very taxing surgery and will be on immune suppressants, so your body can’t fight infection,” Gary Drexler said. “You want to make sure your entire body is clear of infection. Your mouth and gums are one of the easiest ways for infection to attack your body. So you need to have a very clean mouth.”

Fortunately for Gary, he had been vigilant about twice yearly dental visits throughout his life, even in college, and had no complications. If he had a cavity or inflammation in his mouth from some other oral health issue, it could have delayed his surgery until the issue was addressed.

In January, Gary and Brian underwent surgeries in rooms across the hall from each other. After some initial early complications, which can be common, Gary had a well-functioning new kidney and a new lifelong friend with a special bond.

“Brian is my greatest hero in life,” Helen Drexler said. “I will always be grateful for the gift he gave my son.”

Gary is enjoying life free of pain and kidney complications. His doctors have told him to remain vigilant about his oral health.

Having completed her mission to find a donor for her son, Helen Drexler began her new role as CEO of Delta Dental of Colorado in December. She is now strong advocate for oral health issues, spreading the word about the importance of oral health everywhere she goes.

Instead of regular phone calls, mother and son now see each other regularly. They eagerly await the release of J.K. Rowling’s next book.

Posted in: Colorado Medicine


Please sign in to view or post comments.