BRISTOL - Every time Jim Poirot makes his way to the softball field at St. Paul High School, the walk brings with it the opening of a gate, a portal to a more peaceful place ... almost a fantasy land.
In those fleeting moments, the father of the Falcons’ star pitcher, Abby Poirot, is transported from days drowned in questions, doubt and a bit of fear, sinking himself deeply into a world of euphoria immersed with pitch selection debates, stressful back-and-forth pacing and sly, sarcastic smirks, often accompanied by eye rolls, at inconsistent umpire calls.
Some of those days before he gets to the field are harder for Jim Poirot to handle than others. For decades, for his entire life, there has been a concern that has hovered over him mostly in the background, but it has turned darker and has more frequently clouded his mind over the past six months.
So at Abby’s games, for an hour or two, sometimes longer, all those dreading concerns are left in the car as Jim allows himself to push away and delay the inevitable - that if he doesn’t get help, death could be coming much sooner than expected for the 49-year-old husband and father of two.
Jim Poirot has polycystic kidney disease.
PKD is a hereditary illness in which clusters of noncancerous cysts grow on the kidneys. Over time, the disease eventually can lead to kidney failure, and Poirot will require either dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant to stay alive.
Poirot says having the disease is a “fact of life” and always has been. Just like people with freckles, he says, it wasn’t optional.
Some of his first memories came when he was 6 years old during three-hour visits at his grandfather’s farm in Manchester on Sunday mornings and seeing him hooked up to a dialysis machine to treat the illness. Poirot’s mother had it, her brother had it, and two of Poirot’s three brothers have it.
He has known for a lifetime it was possible the disease was passed down to him, but those with PKD typically don’t find out if they have it until they are older and their new kidneys begin to develop. Doctors can usually determine whether or not cysts are beginning to form on the kidneys during the patient’s high school or college years.
One of the telltale signs that a person has PKD is high blood pressure for no particular reason. Poirot, who went on to become a scholarship collegiate athlete, was a healthy high school swimmer, but he was told his blood pressure was strangely elevated. So as a teenager, it started to become an all-but-known fact that there was a good chance he carried the illness.
It was always in the back of his mind, but it wasn’t until about eight years ago when he was formally diagnosed. He heard the doctor officially inform him of what he had already assumed, but that was not the moment when it began to become a reality.
That moment would come last September, when his lab test numbers came back, and his nephrologist told him they had taken a sharp dive.
Poirot switched his diet by taking out salt, potassium and most meats and replacing them with grapes, apples and cucumbers, plus drinking close to a gallon of water every day. But despite the lifestyle changes, he returned in January to find his situation had worsened and the disease had rapidly progressed.
Just as the softball season was about to start up, in February, it took another turn, and by the beginning of the season, in March, it took a severe turn.
What his nephrologist originally believed was two or three years away was immediately imminent, and he was told he would have to prepare for dialysis - a life-altering treatment that flushes out the toxins built up in the body, but one that also brings with it several complications that make a kidney transplant far less likely to succeed.
Poirot rushed himself over to Hartford Hospital the day after he was told the latest news. Things happened so quickly, there was no way for either Abby, his son Brandon or his wife, Lois, to accompany him as he tried to navigate the enormity and chaos of the hospital to find the small dialysis room. That was when things began to set in.
“I sat by myself in the waiting room for 45 minutes, just waiting and not knowing what to think other than my nephrologist telling me I had to go in immediately,” Poirot said. “It was a lonely moment.”
Poirot compared the situation to a voodoo doll, a running sort-of joke he has in which he asks, “What did I do wrong to be stuck that many times?”
Whoever was holding the needles being pushed into that doll took a break in April.
Something changed. No one knows why. Poirot was settling into the reality of having to go on dialysis and had been making plans to do so, going to appointments with consultants to discuss the two types he may undergo, hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis, confusing, scary terms he had long put off attempting to get acquainted with.
But he suddenly got a reprieve. His numbers began to improve, and he was given more time to find a donor before having to begin the dialysis process. But still, “It’s very hard to go to someone and say, ‘Listen, how do you feel about donating me a kidney?’” Poirot said. “It’s an intimidating process.”
After his most recent doctor’s appointment, Poirot on Wednesday found out that he is on track for needing a transplant either by the end of this year or very early next year, meaning time is continuing to run out on Poirot to find a donor.
One of his goals is to raise awareness of PKD and the need for living donors to come forward in order to help others make an impact. Raising awareness may, in fact, one day save the lives of his two children, who do not yet know if they have PKD and aren’t showing signs of it yet. But that day may come.
Jim may not get a kidney transplant in time to save himself from going on dialysis. He may never get a transplant, period. His life may not be saved. It’s a hard reality to face, but it is one he has humbly accepted.
He was moved from the inactive to the active donor list in March, but finding a match for a kidney is a difficult process that may never reach a happy conclusion.
But he still continues to fight, and he is now asking for help.
Poirot has made a lifetime of giving back. He has served on a school board, volunteered as a coach and was the longtime chairman of the nonprofit organization, the Winsted Area Child Care Center.
“I haven’t worried as much about me as I have about Abby, Brandon and my family. Now I have to turn a little bit more attention towards me, is what it’s come down to,” Poirot said. “I just haven’t been the center of attention and the focus of things. It’s always been my kids and my community.”
The time has now come for him to think about himself. To be a little selfish. The situation calls for it.
“As you get older, things change and your perspective changes,” Poirot said. “The things that become more important to you are different when you’re 50 as opposed to when you’re 20. Everybody eventually says it’s time. The longer I can have with my kids and my family, the more grateful I get. The greatest gift I could have is more time. Time that I’m not stuck to a machine or time that I’m not worried about my health.
“It’s not even that I want to be selfish. I just know I need help.”
Anyone wishing to become a living kidney donor, either to Poirot or another affected by PKD, may reach out to Poirot’s transplant coordinator, Asamoah “Azzy” Anane, at Hartford Hospital (860-972-4632).
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com