In a photo taken when she was a child, Karen Renslow (right) sits with her mother, Rita, her brother, Charles, and her sister, Pam.Karen Renslow sits at her station at Head Masters in Jefferson, where she cuts hair.

Disease grips entire family

YOU CAN HELP Event to raise money for local woman’s kidney transplant


Karen Renslow has cut hair at Head Masters in Jefferson for more than a decade.

Always working at the same station, she’s a pro at making people’s day with a haircut — whether it’s a woman looking for a change or a wiggly child sitting on the chair for the first time.

But now, her days look different. Exhaustion hits her at unexpected times. She uses her lunch hour for naps. There are times when she just can’t work.

Renslow, 45, is experiencing kidney failure — and it’s a disease that has touched her entire family.

As she looks down the road at a transplant, Jefferson is coming together to help her prepare with a fundraiser in October.

From Carroll to Jefferson

Renslow was born in Carroll and grew up there until her mother died when Renslow was 14. Her parents were Rita and Charles Nepple. She has an older brother, Charles Jr., and an older sister, Pam.

After her mother’s death, Renslow moved to live with her aunt and uncle in Scranton and finished high school there.

She moved to Jefferson in 1989 and said she loves its atmosphere.

“People are helping each other out; everyone knows you, and you know everyone,” she said. “If people need help, you can help. It’s a great place to raise your kids.”

She and her husband Mike, who works at American Athletic Inc., have three children: Aaron, 21; Kayler, 19; and Mandy, 17.

Renslow has worked at Head Masters for 14 years. When she was a kid and salon haircuts were a luxury, she cut her own hair, as well as her mother’s and sister’s. She decided to make a career of it.

“You can transform someone’s whole outlook with a single haircut, or a cut and color,” she said. “People can come in and be down and depressed on life in general, and they get their hair cut, and they’re lifted by the time you’re done with them.”

Renslow said she and her brother were “like oil and water” growing up. With their single mother working multiple jobs, the kids spent most of their time at school or friends’ houses. But as they grew up, the two became closer.

Then her brother got sick.

Eight years

When Renslow discovered Nepple’s kidney was failing and he needed a transplant, she immediately asked to be tested to see if she was a match.

Despite criticism from those who thought she shouldn’t, Renslow spent months in Sioux City, where Nepple lived at the time, going through testing and — after discovering she was a match — preparing to be a live donor.

Renslow doesn’t remember much about the actual surgery in 1999 that transferred a kidney from her body to her brother’s. She recalls having difficulty with the IV, dealing with swelling in her face and feet after the laparoscopic procedure and being able to return to work in two weeks.

Nepple, 48, remembers being frustrated after the surgery because the transplanted kidney was still “sleeping.” For some time, he had to return to dialysis, a mechanical process that serves the function of kidneys.

“Karen had donated her kidney, and it was in my body, and it wasn’t working,” Nepple recalled, thinking,  “She went through that pain and suffering for nothing.”

But after a time, the kidney began working — and for years after that, everything was better.

“Even now, I don’t regret it — not one bit,” Renslow said. “We had eight and a half years together that he was able to be off dialysis. How can you not be happy about that? We’d like to have more years, but in the scheme of things, eight years is actually pretty good.”

Then, the transplanted kidney began to fail, and Nepple had to go back on dialysis. His son, Anthony, now 22, who was born with only one kidney, had a transplant that his body rejected. Other family members were beginning to notice kidney problems.

Doctors discovered that a rare form of kidney disease — medullary cystic kidney disease — ran in Renslow’s family. Renslow’s and Nepple’s mother had a kidney transplant when Renslow was young, but doctors at the time did not know that she had the disease that later plagued her children.

And not only was Nepple’s transplanted kidney failing — but Renslow’s remaining one was as well.

‘I never dreamed’

Renslow is now between Stage 4 and Stage 5 of kidney failure.

Her kidney function ranges from 19 to 22 percent — healthy kidneys typically function at almost 100 percent.

Stage 5 is the final stage; at that point, dialysis is required and a transplant is considered. Although Renslow is not currently in pain, she is often exhausted and has to monitor her activities and diet.

“You can say you’re tired, but I’ve never experienced this kind of tired,” she said. “Some days, I have no energy to talk, much less walk — I’ve been falling some, because it’s too much to lift my damn feet up.”

Although there is no set timeline for when she would get a transplant, doctors have estimated it could be needed soon.

Brenda Wood, who owns Head Masters, suggested a fundraiser to help Renslow pay for anti-rejection drugs, which aren’t all covered by insurance, as well as travel to doctor’s appointments after the transplant and living expenses while she is unable to work.

“She is always there to help everyone, so it’s her turn to be helped,” Wood said.

The fundraiser will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Elks Lodge in Jefferson.

A spaghetti supper, with donated food, will run from 5 to 7 p.m., with a silent auction from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be a raffle for a donated hog, including processing, from a meat locker in Bagley. The silent auction will include crafts, sports items and more.

It’s snowballed, more than Renslow ever expected, she said.

“I was hoping some businesses and friends would donate stuff and we’d have a few tables full, but nothing like this,” she said. “It’s just amazing. I never dreamed it was going to be like this.”

Donation accounts have been set up at Peoples Trust and Savings Bank branches in Jefferson, Scranton and Grand Junction for those who want to offer monetary donations. They can also send donations to Renslow at 204 N. Pinet St., Jefferson, IA, 50129. Those with items to donate for the silent auction can bring them to Head Masters at 115 E. Lincoln Way before Sept. 25.

Anyone is invited to attend the benefit, where a freewill donation will be collected.

Some good can come from the ordeal, said Nepple, who plans to attend the fundraiser.

“My wife was absolutely adamant about not being an organ donor,” he recalled. “After my transplant, she never told me, but when she renewed her license, she put that she was an organ donor.”

He hopes the event will increase awareness of kidney disease.

“They call kidney disease the silent killer,” he said. “It creeps up on you.”

But Renslow said it’s important to her that people don’t pity her.

“I hear so much that kidney disease is a death sentence, but when I see other people with diseases — what we have is nothing compared to some of these diseases,” she said. “We have options. We have dialysis; we have transplants. So many diseases out there have no options. For me, this is not a death sentence.”

She added that she doesn’t want her situation, which was colored by her family’s rare disease, to deter other potential kidney donors — she’s the only person who was operated on by her doctor who later needed a transplant.

“I hope when people keep myself and my family in their prayers, they also pray for the family and loved ones of the person who went to heaven so I could have a kidney,” she said.

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161