When visitors walk through the front door of the Land home, one of the first things they’ll see are pictures collaged on a jukebox. The images portray the bond of a father and his only son: the proud papa with his newborn baby, “coach” dad with his uniformed rookie, two fishermen with their big catch, and posing together before the high school prom.
Through the years, father and son have been best friends, even sharing a name. Now “Big Wayne” and “Little Wayne,” as Carole Land often refers to her husband and son, share something else: kidney trouble.
“It’s the tale of my Waynes,” Carole says, fighting back tears. Wayne Sr. was diagnosed with terminal, end-stage renal carcinoma in 2008 following a bout with kidney cancer in 2006 which the family thought was in remission.
Wayne Jr. began experiencing severe kidney pain in September of last year, just months after he was married. He soon was diagnosed with kidney failure and learned he would need a transplant.
Both men have struggled with health issues in the past. Now 31, Wayne Jr. was diagnosed with diabetes when he was just nine years old. With his pancreas not functioning, he has been on insulin most of his life. He developed hypertension at age 22, and the combination likely caused his kidney failure.
He is now on home dialysis while he waits to get on the list for a kidney and pancreas transplant.
“He’s had a lot of bad luck health-wise,” said Wayne Sr., adding, “He keeps his chin up.”
Maybe he gets it from his father. Even after relating the family’s health history, financial struggles and emotional ups and downs, Wayne Sr. says, “There’s a lot of people worse off than us.”
Carole calls a plaque hanging above her kitchen sink “prophetic.” It reads: “Everyday is a Gift.” And it’s been hanging there for probably a decade, long before either of her Waynes’ kidney troubles.
When she was with her husband at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, where the worst cases are sent, she was given two pieces of wise advice from others who have gone through similar hardships. The first was, “You never know how strong you are until you have no choice.” The second was, “Get up and live life.”
And so the Land family pushes on, cherishing each day they have with one another. One of Wayne Sr.’s doctors calls him “the miracle man” because he has now beaten the initial prognosis of 18 months to live, and his kidney function has improved from 15 percent to 25 percent. Although his condition is terminal, he no longer needs dialysis or heavy narcotics for the pain. He’s even started bowling again.
“Talk about a miracle!” Carole exclaimed. “He’s become stronger and stronger.”
Both Waynes are strengthened by the love of their wives. Carole and Wayne Sr. will have been married 37 years in June. Wayne Jr. and his wife, Kara, celebrated their first anniversary March 28.
It hasn’t been the honeymoon they’d imagined, but their struggles have drawn them closer. Because of medical expenses, they live with Wayne Sr. and Carole in their Golden Gate home, where the couple was married in the backyard last year.
It was a beautiful spring day, Kara was barefoot, and Wayne Sr. was wearing flip flops because his feet were blistered from his chemo treatments. Wayne Jr. had asked his dad to be the best man. Carole says her daughter-in-law “brought the smile back” to her son’s face.
Although the kidney problems have upended family life, the Lands keep getting up and living life every day. Kara works at the Collier County Library, and Carole is human resources manager for the Naples Sam’s Club. Both say their coworkers have supported them with occasional financial gifts and numerous encouraging words.
“The poor people I work with, God bless them,” Carole said. “Sometimes I cry on my way to work and cry on the way home.”
Amazingly, Wayne Jr. also has continued working two jobs as a cook at Paseo Village Center and Gateway Golf and Country Club, both in Fort Myers.
“He works 10-to-12-hour days on his feet,” Kara noted. “He’s really not that tired.”
In fact, Wayne Jr. worked his own fundraiser last month. A group of Paseo residents organized a poolside benefit dinner for him March 27, raising $6,500.
“We know how much medical expenses are, and he’s a good employee,” Paseo Manager Amy Siracusa said. “He really cares about how his food tastes.”
The Lands said they felt overwhelmed by the residents’ generosity. “What they did for him was fabulous,” Wayne Sr. said. “They really went over and above.”
The Lands have sold “just about everything” to pay medical bills, Carole said. Wayne Jr. has created a website and hopes to form a nonprofit organization to help others facing kidney transplants.
“It’s been great how everyone’s been helping me, so I’d like to give others help when I get through this,” he said.
Donations may be made through his website at giveakidneychangealife.bbnow.org or may be sent to Wayne Land Jr., 880 10th Street NE, Naples, FL 34120.
Once he is approved for the double transplant, he and Kara will anxiously await the call to rush to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami for a new lease on life. The couple will stay in Miami for two months following the procedure for monitoring. Success rates for kidney-pancreas transplants have gone up, and Jackson is one of the best in the nation, the Lands have been assured.
They continue to live life in the moment, cherishing the bonds formed in childhood, nurtured through adulthood and strengthened through a shared hardship.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Carole said. “Every day is truly a gift.”