CROSBY - Jake Neprud was having the best time of his life.
The 14-year-old Crosby boy was fishing with his dad, Buzz Neprud, and a friend on Rainy River near the Canadian border in late March.
Jake, a ninth-grader at Crosby-Ironton High School, noticed something wrong while on the fishing trip. He lost a layer of skin off his tongue.
Buzz said Jake was feeling fine otherwise so he initially was not concerned. They had only one day left on their fishing trip so they stayed and then Jake would go to the doctor once they got home.
Little did Jake and his family know that what was wrong with him would change Jake's life forever.
Jake Neprud smiled last week in his Crosby home with his parents, Barb and Buzz Neprud, as he told the story about how much fun he had at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis. He stayed there while recovering after his Jan. 17 kidney transplant. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
When Jake returned home from the fishing trip, Barb Neprud, Jake's mother, thought that Jake just had a bad case of strep throat. Jake went to Cuyuna Regional Medical Center to have blood work done and that is where the doctor found that Jake had kidney failure.
"Jake has been healthy until this happened," said Barb. "He's never been sick a day in his life. Jake has been healthy by staying active in sports."
The Nepruds were sent to the University of Minnesota-Fairview Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. More tests were done. Jake was told he would need a kidney transplant.
Barb said that one of Jake's kidneys was the size of a walnut and wasn't functioning at all. The second kidney was 40 percent working.
"The second kidney was taking care of itself," said Barb. "That's why Jake wasn't feeling sick."
In late July, Jake began dialysis, which was done at home, 10 hours each night. When dialysis started Jake's activities were limited. It meant he couldn't play baseball, his favorite activity, go swimming or go on any fishing trips.
How to help Jake
Fundraising efforts are under way in Crosby to help Jake Neprud's family defray medical bills resulting from his kidney transplant.
Those interested in helping the Crosby family may buy a raffle ticket for a chance to win various prizes, including tickets to a Timberwolves game. People can purchase a ticket or make a donation to the Jake Neprud Benefit account at Unity Bank in Crosby or at the Crosby-Ironton Courier.
Jake will pull the winning raffle tickets during halftime of the Feb. 20 C-I basketball game.
More information may be obtained by contacting Becki Zender at (218) 545-1949 or Wendy Gindorff at (218) 546-7307.
The Nepruds had to find a kidney for Jake, otherwise he'd be on a waiting list with more than 65,000 people nationwide. The average wait on the list is four to six years.
Kidney failure runs in Barb's family. Barb lost a kidney when she was 19.
"My kidney was not developing, just like Jake's didn't," said Barb. "That was in 1971 so they just took it out. I've been perfectly healthy ever since. You can live with one kidney."
Barb said her brother, an aunt and her grandfather had kidney failure and each had a kidney removed.
Buzz couldn't donate a kidney to his son because he was too old and Jake's sister, Shelly, 24, couldn't because her blood wasn't a match. Buzz's youngest sister, Kristi Freeberg, was a match and willing donor.
"Kristi is our hero," said Barb. "There are no words to thank her for something like this. She wanted to be a donor so bad."
Jake had his transplant Jan. 17. He was in surgery for six hours.
"I wasn't scared," said Jake. "I was nervous, but I had faith in the doctors. (Officials at the children's hospital) said they have a 96 percent success rate.
"When I woke up I was in pain and it was hard to walk. I slept a lot."
Barb said, "The transplant went remarkably well.
"Our prayers were answered. There are a lot of sick kids there ... We feel really blessed."
Jake stayed at the hospital and later at the Ronald McDonald House for 17 days before coming home Feb. 3. Jake has his blood drawn every three days to check that his body doesn't reject the kidney.
Jake will have to take several prescriptions and more than 20 pills a day for the rest of his life. Barb said the doctors stressed to Jake to not miss any pills.
"They told us that 75 percent of boys ages 14-18 who had kidney transplants stopped taking their medicine because they felt fine and their bodies rejected their new kidney," Barb said.
Jake, who's not back in school yet, said he misses his friends and playing sports. Otherwise, he physically feels fine.
Barb said Jake's taking six weeks off from school to recuperate and build back his strength. Jake still works on his school work through a homebound program. He spends five hours a week at home with a tutor.
The Nepruds said through this difficult process with Jake, their family and the community have been amazing with all the cards, donations and prayers. The family even received support from people in out of state as well as overseas.
"It's a humbling experience because you don't expect this kind of support," said Barb. "So many people and groups have done something for us, even churches we don't belong to. The kids at school have jars in all the classrooms to raise donations for Jake's medical bills."
Shelly said, "Jake is a pretty popular kid. Everyone in the community cares for him."
Barb said he may have to go through another kidney transplant in 10-20 years, but for now he can enjoy his childhood and soon get back to the fun activities he enjoys, like fishing with his dad.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
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