“As part of my role as Superintendent of Kenton County schoos, I am used to being a ‘fixer’ – a ‘problem solver’ and all at once I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. I knew I would need someone to be my problem solver and fixer.” – Tim Hanner
Tim Hanner was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure in 2006, just before he was offered the superintendent job in the Kenton County School District. He knew a transplant was inevitable, with no guarantee of how effective it would be. One doctor even advised him not to take the position. “I wanted the job, and I wanted to try to do it for five years because we had a five-year district plan in place,” said Hanner. Tim was never short on ambition. With close monitoring by physicians, Hanner is nearly finished with his fifth year, and has become one of the most respected education officials in the state. But now his health needs his full attention.
At a school board meeting in January 2011, Hanner announced he must retire June 30. In July, both kidneys will be removed and replaced with one from his older brother, John. “My motto is that there’s a reason for everything,” said Hanner, whose spiritual side has helped him deal with the disease. “Even though you may not see it at the time, you will see it in time.”
As superintendent, Hanner has been bestowed with various honors and responsibilities, including being named the 2010 Kentucky Superintendent of the Year.
The medical name for Hanner’s disease is focal sclerosis. Scar tissue forms on parts of the kidneys, making the filters useless. What causes it is often unknown.” It could have been exposure to something. Nobody really knows,” Hanner said. “What was confusing about it was that I had just lost about 25 pounds before I was diagnosed and was probably in the best shape I had ever been in.”
He knew something was wrong in early 2006 when he consistently got severe headaches and his blood pressure skyrocketed. A biopsy revealed the disease, and his kidneys were functioning at about 30 percent. After consulting local physicians and those at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he went on medication with the expectation that he’d need a transplant in two years. Doctors helped him manage the disease the last five years. His kidneys are now functioning at just below 20 percent, the threshold for needing a transplant. He would need to go on dialysis if they drop to 15 percent.
His biggest battle has been with fatigue, and an almost non-existent immune system. “I used to always be energetic on five or six hours of sleep. Now, even after eight or nine hours of sleep, I’m tired,” Hanner said. “And my immune system is shot. I get everything from rashes to colds and the flu very easily, but I’ve tried really hard to not let this define me.”
Hanner discussed the possibility of retiring with his wife, Marlene, and two children, in December.
The Hanners have recently celebrated 32 years of marriage. “It was an agonizing decision for him because he’s so passionate about his work,” said Marlene Hanner. She said her husband has made the disease easier for everybody to deal with because he doesn’t dwell on it. “He just keeps going,” she said. “He shows what ‘mind over matter’ can do.”
Hanner said his wife has been “beyond supportive.” “She will rarely say, ‘Here’s what I think you need to do,’ but when it comes to my health, she speaks up loud and clear,” Hanner said. “She’s been very positive that we will make this work.”
Hanner said his brother, generally a very private person, was the first to offer a kidney. “He got tested last year and was a match,” Hanner said. “I’m very grateful to him, and I would have done the same for him if he needed it.” Whether the transplant will cure his illness is unknown because doctors don’t know if the disease is internal to his kidneys or being caused by something externally. If it does not work, he and doctors will go back to the drawing board to find a solution.
“This one’s complicated,” Hanner said. “Hopefully by this time next year I’ll be feeling healthy and finding something to do next in life.” He would like to get back into education, but will be solely focused on getting well after the transplant. “I’m just looking forward to taking time to exercise, get healthy and concentrate on that aspect of life,” he said.
-Edited from Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper article January 2011