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Months of disease cured in a week

Pat and Jack Converse love the time they get to spend with their family, especially with their six grandchildren. (Contributed)

“No one could believe it, because I was working the day before.”

Pat Converse of Alexandria said she never really gets sick. That is, until she went to the doctor for lack of energy and discovered she had Wegener’s Granulomatosis.

Wegener’s is a rare disorder in which blood vessels become inflamed, making it hard for blood to flow. According to Converse’s doctors, 1 in 100,000 people have Wegener’s and only one or two cases are seen each year in St. Cloud. It has no known cause, is not hereditary, and is common in people of Scandinavian descent. Converse is 100 percent Norwegian.  

When she went to the doctor on December 2, 2013, her blood and urine tests came back with questionable results. The doctor told her to see a nephrologist, a kidney specialist, which she did the following Friday. The results showed that her kidneys weren’t functioning.

The nephrologist suspected that the problem could be Wegener’s, but a kidney biopsy was needed to be sure. Converse was sent to St. Cloud Hospital immediately.

That is where the real nightmare took place. During the kidney biopsy, the doctor hit an artery. Pat instantly started to bleed out.

“I died,” Converse said, matter-of-factly.

While she was bleeding out, the doctors began to simultaneously pump blood back into her.

“They gave her at least five units of blood,” said Pat’s husband, Jack. “She flat-lined three times.”

“They cracked three of my ribs with the paddles when bringing me back,” Converse added. When she woke up three days later, she thought she had undergone open heart surgery from the pain.

The biopsy confirmed that she had Wegener’s. Doctors couldn’t tell for certain how long Converse was living with this problem, but they suspected it had been months. Pat was put on steroids and within a week, the Wegener’s was gone.

Though the Wegener’s disease is cured, it left some damage to her kidneys. Pat has been receiving dialysis three times a week, each visit lasting three and a half hours, at Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria.

“They are so wonderful,” Converse said of the hospital staff. “They are friendly and compassionate and always good about working around my time if I need to reschedule.”

She will need a kidney transplant. Her doctors in St. Cloud told her that she needed to wait one year after her diagnosis, but the Converses decided they needed a second opinion.

After their daughter set up an appointment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester for mid January, Pat learned that if a living donor volunteers, she could have a transplant as early as this June.

“They said she is a great candidate for a transplant,” Jack said. “She’s just so healthy!”

Worried that his wife’s condition could return or possibly infect the new kidney, Jack asked doctors if that was a possibility.

“They said it’s highly unlikely to come back,” said Jack. “The chances of it affecting the new kidney are practically none.”

Pat’s sister, Connie Olson of Grand Junction, Colorado, is currently undergoing the required testing to be the donor. Converse choked up discussing her sister’s selflessness.

If Connie is not a match, Converse will have to play the waiting game to find a donor, which could take three to five years.

The Converses have felt the love and support from their community.

“There have been lots of flowers, cards and caring thoughts,” said Converse. According to the couple, Converse’s place of employment, Bursch Travel, has been “off the charts” supportive.

Converse is happy to be back playing the organ at Osakis Lutheran Church, something she has enjoyed doing for two Sundays every month since 1988. After she receives a new kidney and is back to good health, she looks forward to a round of golf.

The good that came from this whole situation, as Pat sees it, is that after 45 years of marriage, Jack has finally learned to clean the house. 

Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
(320) 763-1233