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August 2014 • Online Edition
 

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Photo Artist Michael Pastur’s Friends Picture Him Healing | Print |  E-mail

by Susan Dugan

Cancer survivor and West Washington Park resident Michael Pastur’s Facebook account lay largely dormant when childhood friend and former classmate Roxanne Hamilton Guberud sent him a friend request last year.

PHOTOGRAPHER MICHAEL PASTUR HAS REGAINED UNEXPECTED ALLIES, as childhood friends from LaCrosse, Wisconsin have launched a formidable Facebook effort to help locate a kidney donor for the stalwart but debilitated Pastur. Photo by Paul Kashmann

“We went through grade school, junior high, and high school together and probably hadn’t talked since junior high,” he says. “She’s an emergency ward nurse in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where I grew up. Within a few weeks of reconnecting with Roxanne I suddenly had 80 more friends from high school in my account.”

Guberud was shocked to learn that over the past several years Pastur had suffered kidney failure, battled two blood cancers, received a stem cell transplant, and survived a heart attack. A breast cancer survivor, she vowed to find him a kidney donor, creating the Facebook page “Help Michael Pastur Get a Kidney” along with other former classmates to champion the cause. 

Pastur had enjoyed a quintessential American childhood growing up in La Crosse, fishing in the Mississippi River and building friendships that would last a lifetime. After graduating from La Crosse Central High School he attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse unsure about his life’s direction. “That’s when I took a photography class and was instantly hooked,” he says.

He later transferred to Southern Illinois University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts photography in 1981 and then relocated to Boulder, landing a job in a custom photo shop and later working in-house at Rocky Mountain Bank Note. Laid off in 1992, he concentrated on building his freelance photography business while exploring and eventually practicing holistic mind/body work.

“My older sister had suffered a bout with environmental illness and what started bringing her back was this special method of reflexology designed to treat the whole body. I found it fascinating, and started studying and developing clientele. Several years later I became certified in something called palm therapy, using traditional palm lines to work out emotions.” But he deliberately kept his clientele low. “I never quite knew how to block the energy from people or keep it from depleting my energy. Quite often my client would leave feeling wonderful but I’d be dragging on the ground.”

He continued working as a photographer and also began building custom cameras. “My first major design was taking a Holga – a cheap plastic Chinese camera very popular with students, that has a real cult following – and making it into a circuit camera so you could shoot a three-hundred-sixty-degree image. My mother had always wanted me to be an engineer like my father, and I guess you could say I started re-engineering cameras.”

A longtime avid runner who ran three-to-five miles daily up to five times a week and enjoyed robust health, Pastur was only mildly concerned about a troubling condition that developed as his fiftieth birthday drew near. “I had a history of things manifesting psychosomatically prior to big birthdays, so I kept brushing it off when I started getting swelling in my lower legs and ankles. My mom had had swollen ankles so I just thought – oh, I’ve got Mom’s ankles.”

As the symptoms worsened, Pastur turned to an herbalist for treatment. “I ended up gaining 17 pounds of fluid and eventually went to a medical doctor. It turned out the fluid was a result of my kidneys shutting down. Denver Health first diagnosed it as a kidney problem and did kidney biopsies and bone biopsies. In the end there was a diagnosis of two blood cancers causing an overproduction of bad protein in the blood. The kidneys were responding by dumping all protein – and with a lack of protein you get fluid build-up.”

Pastur was treated aggressively with diuretics that did not prevent kidney failure, and spent New Year’s eve 2009 at Denver Health. “Unfortunately the diuretics stripped me of all potassium. They sent me home with dangerously low potassium levels and I ended up having a heart attack just after I’d started dialysis and right before I was to begin chemotherapy.”

The heart attack fortunately did little or no damage and Pastur’s case captured the attention of Denver oncologist Choon-Kee Lee, then practicing at University Hospital. “He had worked with clients similar to me but I was one of the several million uninsured. Through the beginning of 2009 we went through a big mess of trying to get Medicaid to cover treatment, and finally Medicare came on board because I was considered permanently disabled as a result of the kidney failure.”

In May 2009 Pastur underwent a successful stem cell transplant, and spent several weeks in quarantine at University Hospital until his immune system improved enough to send him home. “I needed 24/7 care and several of my friends got together, made up a schedule, and took turns being with me.”

On the transplant list since his cancer was officially considered in remission, Pastur continues to wait along with 90,000 others for a life-saving kidney transplant. The average wait is three to five years and five-to-15 percent of those waiting die on dialysis. Disability covers his rent but not much else. “The past couple of years I had some stock from when my mother passed away suddenly appear, but in all honesty I think I’m looking at bankruptcy; my funds are pretty exhausted.”

Friends have collected money to help with living expenses. “My friends have been very, very generous and I just feel I’ve really capped that. At the beginning of the summer I started driving as a delivery person for Domino’s Pizza. I had done that for many years before I got sick, to make extra money. Unfortunately this summer has been so brutally hot; who wants pizza in a hundred degrees?”

Pastur is also trying to become more physically active but finds it difficult. He broke his pelvis slipping on ice in 2010, and has gained 50 pounds in the last four years. “I have dialysis three times a week for four hours at a time and every day following dialysis I feel like I’ve had the life sucked right out of me.” He remains optimistic his Facebook friends’ dedicated efforts will find him a direct or paired donor, which he explains is, “... where the person is not a match for me but agrees to give up their kidney, with the intention of me getting the next available (and compatible) kidney from the transplant list.”

These days he stays away from searching his odds on the internet – “According to what I read online I was supposed to be dead two years ago” – and remains thankful for the many people who have stepped up to help, including his former physician. “I was always against Western medicine – that’s why I got into holistic treatments. But I had no choice because this was so aggressive. Everything I was against I just had to learn to accept – and Dr. Lee was so amazing. He saved my life. We developed such a relationship. I can’t be grateful enough for that.”

If you can help or would like to spread the word, look for the “Help Michael Pastur Get a Kidney” page on Facebook.

(Editor’s note: View a widely diverse selection of Michael Pastur’s photography at www.flickr.com/photos/michael-pastur/sets/.)

 
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