Marine from Elyria blames kidney failure on camp water; Retired Air Force Sgt. sister donates

Update for military-serving siblings after surgery

ELYRIA, Ohio - Sitting in his favorite chair inside his Elyria home, Algie Nelson leafs through photographic memories under cellophane captured in his scrapbooks since high school in Lorain County.

Nelson transitioned easily from his Elyria High School football uniform to Marine-issued camouflage after his 1979 graduation. Being a Marine was the only military service Nelson even considered. His health since has not been as easy a transition.

After being stationed around the globe following his boot camp at Perris Island, South Carolina, Nelson eventually found himself stationed in North Carolina in 1983. There at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, he stayed on base, eating standard-issue Marine meals and drinking water from the base's eight water processing stations until his Marine Corps departure in 1985. Moving to Norfolk, Virginia, he began his career as a police officer.

Shortly after leaving Camp Lejeune, Nelson noticed his health starting to decline and his skin beginning a form of depigmentation known as vitiligo. He attributes his skin disease and the fact that both of his kidneys have now failed, leaving him with them both only functioning at 5 percent, to drinking water at Camp Lejeune.

Camp Lejeune has been under scrutiny for decades. In the mid-1980s its drinking water in at least two water treatment plants were found to have over 70 toxic chemicals, some of which were over 3,400 times the federally-accepted levels.

Those levels go back to 1953 at Lejeune. President Barack Obama to sign the August 2012 Janey Ensminger Act to ensure that Navy and Marine veterans and their family members sickened by contaminated drinking water while they lived or worked there could receive benefits. The bill, named for a 9-year-old girl who died in 1987 from a rare form of leukemia, covers those living or working at Lejeune from 1957 to 1987. Most think it was too little too late.

Nelson his living proof the bodily damage can take decades to rear its dangerous head. Nelson needs a kidney now just to save his life.

"Right now, there are class action lawsuits and they have determined maybe a couple years ago that some of the problems that came from the contamination contained cancers, skin and kidney disease, things like that," Nelson said.

Nelson's sister, Helen Noel, one of 10 children of Charles and Beatrice Nelson, recently retired from the Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant. She had seen her brother suffering firsthand following his years at the camp while she was stationed nearby Norfolk during her 24 years in the Air Force.

Remembering that her only other brother, Tyrone, died of end stage multiple sclerosis in January 2012, Helen decided she had to see if she could possibly be a kidney donor for Algie.

Even though they had two different blood types, her O-positive blood proved to be an answered prayer.

"It was placed in my heart that I needed to become an advocate for him to receive a kidney and at that time I checked, and I didn't realize at the time that I was eligible to donate, but I was told I was could be a donor," Noel said.

A dual surgery day has been set April 9 for Nelson to receive Noel's left kidney. Surgeon Ken Woodside of University Hospital said survival rates for kidney recipients and their live donors is extremely high. Woodside said Noel's blood type made her a perfect match for her brother. With most live donors being family or close friends.

"Living donor transplanted kidneys, typically, about 97 percent of them are working after the first year," Woodside said.

Nelson will take a bit longer for his recovery time, but his sister will be able to resume time with her husband and two sons in Virginia much sooner.

"She's a writer so, knowing her, she probably will be writing during post-op day one," Woodside said.

Noel's book "7 Days in the Fire", is about healing.


Update 04/22/2013:

Fresh from two weeks rest recovering from their surgeries, both Noel and Nelson are doing well. Noel's kidney has been accepted by Nelson's body, though they differed in blood type. Noel is a universal donor with an O-positive blood type. Nelson and Noel have been making trips from his Elyria home to the University Circle of Cleveland where University Hospital is located. His doctors are pleased with his progress.

"A couple time a week I have to go back to U.H. for lab work and I think I have to make one or two more trips to U.H. before I have to go over to U.H. in Westlake," said Nelson.

Nelson's sister Helen and he were named after their paternal grandparents' first names, so they've always felt a closeness a bit different than their other 8 siblings. After a successful transplant they're even closer. Showing his emotions is a trait Nelson keeps close to the vest, even before he became a Marine. He says his sister knows how he feels without words expressing it.

"I don't think he wanted to show his emotions toward me," said Noel. "I know how he feels, I really do. He does different things to show me how much he appreciates me doing it and everything, so I know how he is by now. I've lived with him for many years and been around him, so he doesn't get over on me!"

Nelson's and Noel's mother, Beatrice Nelson, has been helping with both of their recovery. A mother's work may never be done, even if they are closer to middle age rather than their childhood.

"This has been rather a difficult time because you not only have one to worry about, you have two to worry about and you just have to have faith and everything is just going to turn out all right because this is a great thing that happened," said Beatrice Nelson.

Now that Nelson is on his way to recovery, both he and his sister want to pursue an advocacy for the many  health concerns of other Marines, their families, and those who may have worked or lived at Lejuene from 1957 to 1987.

For information on University Hospitals' Transplant Institute or living donation call 216-983-5138

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