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Special thanks given this year

Jed Carlson/Superior Telegram Photographer Steve Kirk plays a computer game with his son Ryan, 3, in his office at Wessman Arena on Friday evening. Kirk, who had a stroke on Oct. 18, learned he has a kidney disease and will need a kidney transplant in the future.

Thanksgiving is always the time of year when we take time to give thanks for all the gifts in our lives. It's a time that even Viking and Packer fans can agree on one thing -- at least we're not Lion fans.

I know of one Superiorite who has a new appreciation for the upcoming holiday.

"I'm thankful to be alive," said Steve Kirk, 34, Wessman Arena coordinator and assistant director of campus recreation at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. "Everything has a different meaning this year."

His story starts Oct. 17 at a Superior High School football game in Eau Claire. Kirk, along with his wife, Johanna, and their 3-year-old-son, Ryan, stopped at the game en route to visit Johanna's family near Thorpe.

On Saturday, Oct. 18, Kirk woke up and noticed his right arm and hand tingling, almost like they were asleep. Not thinking anything about it, he took his son swimming in the hotel pool. Walking back from the pool the tingling moved down his body into his right leg and foot.

"My sandal fell off and I didn't even notice it for like five steps," Kirk said.

When they got back to the hotel room the numbness continued to creep into the right side of his body and he was beginning to lose his balance. It was at that point he told his wife they better go to the doctor.

"I'm pretty stubborn when it comes to the doctor, but at least I was smart enough to know something wasn't right," Kirk said with a chuckle.

The Kirks drove to the emergency room in Stanley. While they waited for tests to come back, Kirk told his wife that he'd be fine and that she should go meet with a man that was interested in buying some property they owned in the area. Reluctantly, she took their son and went to the property. After they left, doctors informed Kirk they would be sending him to Eau Claire by ambulance.

"She's still mad at me for making her leave the hospital (in Stanley)," Kirk said.

Once in Eau Claire an emergency room doctor came in and told him that he was in the process of having a stroke.

"They even showed me the x-ray of the bleeding in my brain," Kirk said.

A battery of tests over the next couple of days concluded that Kirk's stroke was triggered from a kidney disease called IgA nephropathy -- also known as Berger's Disease. Prior to the stroke he had no symptoms of the disease that hampers the kidney's ability to filter waste and excess water.

"In a weird way, I'm kind of lucky," Kirk said. "At least I found out about my disease."

Kirk returned to work full time at Wessman Arena on Nov. 3 with 60 percent of the feeling back in his leg, 75 percent feeling in his arm and 90 percent feeling in his face. He still has chills running through his arm.

"Its like cold water is running through my arm," Kirk said.

One aspect of Kirk's life that has changed is his diet. His kidney disease has drastically changed what he can eat. He can no longer eat anything high in potassium, only a half cup of dairy a day and had to eliminate whole grains, bananas, oranges, melons, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, spinach and peanut butter from his diet.

"The diet has been the hardest part," Kirk said. "It's hard to find things to eat; I've been checking a lot of labels."

On Nov. 11 Kirk found out that in order to beat his disease he will need a kidney transplant. On Jan. 6 he will be going to the Mayo Clinic to start the process of getting himself on the transplant list, meeting with doctors and learning about his surgery.

"I've got six hours to get down there whenever I get the call," Kirk said. "It doesn't leave a lot of time, but whatever I have to do I will. I feel like I'm in good hands (dealing with the Mayo Clinic)."

With a transplant looming, Kirk has not only thought about his past, but is looking ahead to the future.

"I think more about the things I've done and the things I still want to do with my family," Kirk said. "I've got another Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up to look forward to. I want to thank everyone for all the support. It's been overwhelming."

So now it's kind of a waiting game. Kirk does his therapy at home, he's alerted his coworkers that at some point -- hopefully in the near future -- he'll be rushing down to the Mayo Clinic to receive a new kidney. And he's going about his everyday life, noticing the little things in life that sneak by everyday.

Jed Carlson is the Superior Telegram photographer and occasional columnist. Call him at (715) 395-5024 or e-mail