NORTHVALE, N.J. — A car accident 13 years ago is initially what saved Northvale native Gene Okun.
At the time, Okun of California had no idea that he had polycystic kidney disease. But a doctor noticed cysts on the X-rays following the crash.
While Okun is taking a humorous marketing approach to his search for a living donor in his "Big, Dumb Kidneys" campaign that his sister launched, there's really nothing funny about it.
"I'm trying to make light of it even though it's a serious thing," said 52-year-old Okun, whose father also had PKD.
"I'm trying to find a way to get people to have some interest."
Aside from finding new kidneys for himself, Okun's greatest hurdle has been trying to change people's perception of kidney donation.
"Individually, we each were born with an extra kidney or a spare," he explained.
"Many people are born with one kidney and never know it."
Having PKD impedes much of Okun's life. Sleeping on his side is painful. Getting in and out of a booth at a restaurant or a car is difficult. His body cramps up easily.
It's a lot like being pregnant.
Okun is currently on donor waiting lists, but it will be between 7 and 10 years before he will hear back.
Prior to his diagnosis, Okun was a nationally-ranked body builder, and owned several health clubs in Florida.
"I got a lot of reward from helping others," he said of his career as a trainer.
These days, Okun is just trying to maintain his health before he has to face dialysis. No matter what, though, his kidneys continue to grow.
"Through speaking with other donors I've learned that they feel they've done something good to the highest order," Okun said.
"They've given someone life."
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