Transplants lead to love, much more for Manhattan couple
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent August 29, 2012 2:32PM
Ron and Sheila Egger smile at the next generation in their family, grandson Jackson Rambo, 2, takes their picture at their home in Manhattan. Ron and Sheila met when they were both getting kidney transplants and have since married. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-T
Updated: October 1, 2012 4:42PM
For Ron and Sheila Egger, marriage “the second time around” has been about much more than romance.
It’s been a real lifesaver.
Ron, 59, and Sheila, 60, of Manhattan, met in 1996 when Ron was undergoing his first kidney transplant and Sheila was being treated for her body’s rejection of a kidney/pancreas transplant she underwent in 1994.
“She remembers meeting me, but I don’t remember meeting her,” Ron Egger said. “I was really ill at the time.”
Ron’s mother, Mary Egger, took over where Ron couldn’t.
Ron, a divorced father of four children at the time, said his mother thought Sheila would be a great match for him.
“My mother would be out in the waiting room bending (Sheila’s) ear,” Ron said. “Obviously, I had no clue about what was going on.”
Sheila, then a divorced mother of three, knew exactly what her future mother-in-law had in mind.
“One thing was clear: She didn’t like his current girlfriend,” Sheila said. “She wanted us to get together and get married.”
The recuperating couple had the opportunity to get to know each other early in 1997 during waiting room visits several times a week at the University of Chicago Transplant Center.
The meetings were productive.
“You asked if you could call me, and I said, ‘Sure,’ ” Sheila Egger said to Ron.
They began dating in March 1997, each clear about the direction of the relationship.
“We were both of a mind that we weren’t going to marry again, just continue dating,” Ron Egger said.
Each was leading a busy life, despite their medical challenges.
Ron Egger was working full time in computer technology and raising his four children in a nearly 100-year-old home in Manhattan. He wanted them to grow up in a small-town atmosphere where they could attend Lincoln-Way Central High School.
Sheila Egger was on her own after living with her mother for five years after quadruple-bypass heart surgery, one of many medical issues brought on by juvenile diabetes. She continued working at Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, where she has worked for the last 40 years.
After five years of dating, the couple’s resolve to keep the status quo weakened. On Valentine’s Day in 2002, Ron proposed and Sheila accepted.
A long courtship turned into a short engagement. Ten days later, they were married.
At the time, Ron Egger didn’t know his decision not only was a decision of the heart but one that may have saved his life.
The kidney he received in his 1996 transplant was failing this year, and Ron’s children were not optimal transplant matches. Sheila’s daughter, Michelle Harazak, 39, was.
Harazak traveled from her home in southern Florida after “insisting on being tested” and found she was a perfect match.
Ron Egger said his second transplant “is a six-star rating on a five-star scale.”
Sheila Egger’s second kidney transplant also came about thanks to a family member. In 2007, her sister, Gayle Clark, became her donor.
The Eggers are grateful for their blended family, for their friends from Jackson Creek Fellowship Church in Manhattan who helped them during their illnesses and recuperation, and for the staff at University of Chicago who continually check on their well-being.
Neither takes for granted anything that is a part of their life together.
“I have a home office; she has a sewing room. We’ve got a bicycle trail we ride, and we spend a lot of time with our grandchildren,” Ron Egger said. “All those things that, if the illness had taken us, we wouldn’t have had in our lives.”