By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Greg Dentice is one of the “healthiest unhealthy people” his doctor has ever seen, and the contradictory statement makes sense when looking at the 23-year-old Stuy Town resident. Dentice is tall, although a little thinner than he used to be by his mom’s assessment, and works in construction pulling cabling for internet service. But he also has a rare disease that requires frequent doctor’s visits, hours of treatments, a strict diet and now, an organ transplant in the next few months in order to survive.
Dentice was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease known as Membranoproliferative Glomerulonephritis (MPGN) when he was in sixth grade and until recently, the disease had been exhausting due to all the precise dietary restrictions but was manageable.
“Most foods are salty beyond what I would have imagined,” he said, explaining that his kidneys can’t filter out protein, sodium, potassium and phosphorous. “I was always an athlete but I had to portion control (once I was diagnosed) and I lost a lot of mass. Even Gatorade has phosphorous so I can only drink water.”
Dentice’s mother Patricia, a phys ed teacher at the Epiphany School for the last 20 years, said that figuring out the dietary restrictions is a balance.
“There’s a lot of label reading and there are even some vegetables he has to be careful of,” she said. “It’s time-consuming and there’s a lot of meal prep.”
What changed recently for Dentice was a sharp decline in kidney function. He said that he had been maintaining 40 percent kidney function until last October, when he found out that that scarring from the disease is causing renal failure and his kidney function had dropped to 16 percent.
With MPGN, the immune system is attacking healthy cells in the kidney because it thinks that it’s attacking the diseas, while it’s actually destroying the function of the filtering units in the kidney.
“It’s really like cutting off your nose to spite your face,” Dentice said of the disease.
Although the disease is rare, Dentice got a diagnosis relatively quickly when he first started showing symptoms 13 years ago. This was after his mother initially contacted an allergist because Dentice’s face was swollen.
“I noticed that his eyes were getting very puffy and attributed it to allergies, but the doctor knew immediately to bring him in (to a kidney specialist) when he learned that Greg’s ankles were swollen,” she said.
Dentice is on the national registry for a kidney donor but with 90,000 other people on the list, the odds of getting a kidney that way, especially quickly, are low, so Dentice and his family have launched a crowd-sourced campaign to find a living donor.
Unfortunately, no one in his immediate family is eligible to donate a kidney. Both his mother and his brother Keith have kidney stones and so aren’t eligible to donate, and his father Wayne is ineligible due to a traumatic brain injury. His sister Cassin is not eligible because she recently had a baby.
The national registry is a list of donors from cadavers, and Dentice would likely have better results from a living donor anyway, with a kidney lasting 10 to 20 years, whereas a kidney donated from a cadaver would last eight to 10 years.
MPGN doesn’t have a cure so doctors consider a transplant, as well as dialysis, treatment options. Although his doctors have said that 23 is young for the disease to progress so rapidly, he seemed to have been managing it well so far since he previously saw an increase in kidney function, which his doctor said is rare.
“With kidney disease, it doesn’t usually go back up,” he said.
Dentice’s mother said that she’s grateful the disease is not necessarily immediately visible and that her son has been able to remain optimistic, despite recent developments.
“Of course I worry all the time, but he’s strong and he’s handled it very courageously,” she said. “The only time he’s really been down was when (his kidney function) went down but he’s staying positive and we’re really proud of him.”
Dentice’s family is maintaining a Facebook page with updates and information for potential donors at facebook.com/kidneyforgregdentice.
Dentice and his siblings, third generation Stuyvesant Town residents, all graduated from Epiphany, where his mother still teaches, and last Thursday, there was a special blessing at the all-school mass for Dentice and his family. Epiphany School also created a website to help with the family’s campaign at gregneedsakidney.com.