Skip to main content

Cottonwood Holladay Journal

‘True love story’ hits diseased road block

Mar 07, 2018 11:17AM ● By Travis Barton

Valerie and Tom Densley were childhood friends before reuniting a few years ago and getting married. (Courtesy Valerie Densley)

It was in a ’51 Chevy pickup truck that Valerie Densley learned to drive at a young age. And almost 50 years later, that same truck helped find her husband. 

Valerie and Tom Densley were friends when they were little. It was the late 60s, early 70s when they went their separate ways rarely hearing from one another. Tom had always wanted the truck and told Valerie’s father to sell it to him when the time came. It took decades but Tom, now 62, finally got the truck. 

Meanwhile, Valerie, now 57, saw a similar truck at a car show and decided to look for the Chevy from her childhood. Through Facebook she found Tom had it and was planning to turn it into a hot rod.  

“We met up with each other and found out we lived pretty parallel lives and immediately fell in love and got married,” she said. “It was very crazy.” 

They celebrated their one-year anniversary at the end of February. 

Once reconnected, they discovered both had recently gone through bad divorces and moved into new homes. Now married, they moved into Tom’s house in West Jordan, where he grew up. 

“It’s a true love story,” Valerie said. 

Recently though, that story hit a road block. 

Tom was born with polycystic kidney disease where numerous cysts grow in the kidneys which reduces function and leads to kidney failure. About 600,000 people in the US have PKD, according to the National Kidney Foundation. March is National Kidney Month. 

It wasn’t until about 20 years ago Tom found out he had the hereditary disease, and it was a few years ago on Thanksgiving his body took a downturn. Now his kidney function at level 7, out of 100. 

They are now in search of a kidney donor for the O blood type Tom has. Anybody can receive blood from O, but only O blood types can receive from each other. 

Last fall, the couple had a donor set up—a young friend of Tom’s from their work as heavy equipment mechanics on large drill rigs in gold mines and gravel pits. The surgery was scheduled for November 2017, but they didn’t get that far. 

The young man, who Valerie described as “very health conscious,” found out he was diabetic shortly before the procedure. “(He) came to the house broken-hearted,” Valerie said. 

“I’m glad they found that,” Tom said. “If they donated and then found out he had a health issue (because of the donation), I couldn’t have lived with that.”

The two are exploring all avenues before them. A Facebook page was put together called “Give me an O.” They are on the donor list at the University of Utah donor center and donors can submit online for “Thomas Densley.” Though Valerie is not a match for Tom, she is undergoing testing so they become a team. This is when the clinic looks for another pair where Valerie can donate her kidney while her counterpoint donates to Tom. 

“Just an extra something they will search for but sadly our team is rare as well and is difficult to match,” Valerie said. 

Looking for another donor has been difficult, Valerie said. She describes Tom just like his blood type, generously giving to everyone, but also not one to make public his health issues often disguising the pain he often suffers. Tom still works when he can saying he’ll work as long as his body allows. 

“I can be his advocate but it wears me down because I’m so emotionally attached,” she said. 

Tom said his wife’s been wonderful looking for donors. He added that testing to become a donor is a three- to four-month process paid for by his insurance. “In the long run, they get a hell of a physical examination to see if they have anything wrong,” Tom joked. 

The couple strives to identify the funny moments. Tom is unable to regulate his body temperature so he often feels cold. So cold he “could be in blankets sitting in front of the fire place with heat up to 78 degrees in the house and still be freezing,” Valerie said. 

She will come home to “what feels like a fire” and show Tom the butter melting on the kitchen counter. “This is proof that it’s too warm in here,” she’ll say. 

What’s harder to laugh about is how the disease affects his joints. For his body to get nutrients, it’s pulling from his bone supply causing him significant pain. This happens especially if overexerts himself. 

“The next day or two feels like somebody is beating me up with a baseball bat, every bone in the body hurts,” Tom said. “I can’t function, can’t sit or lay down—just uncomfortable and the lack of sleep is terrible.”

He will often go weeks in between a decent night of sleep, which is considered 2-4 hours long. Medication possibilities are limited due to their harsh nature on body organs. 

“A lot of time,” Valerie said. “He just has to try his best to endure.”