‘Start living again’

Mat Korso is preparing for his kidney transplant and could use the community’s support. (From left) Jason Wood’s Fanny Rugburn and Mat Korso’s Ana Khonda perform in last year’s “Fanana on Ice.” Another holiday Fanana show is planned for this year. (courtesy photos)

Florence resident prepares for kidney-pancreas transplant

Updated Nov. 14, 2022, with GoFundMe information.

Oct. 12, 2022 — “With getting a kidney and a pancreas, that means I would no longer be diabetic,” Mat Korso said. “I can have a much more active life. I could get back into doing the things that I love, like theater. And I'd be able to work more often again. … I'd love to just start living again.”

Korso, front desk receptionist at Oceanside Veterinary Hospital in Florence, is a horror-loving actor diagnosed with kidney failure five years ago. He is on the transplant list for not only a kidney, but also a pancreas. This will involve both a surgery as well as a lengthy stay in Portland near Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

“This past five years is like I'm in an aquarium and I'm sitting on the beach looking at the ocean. Things have been so limited and so, not only stressful, but exhausting,” Korso said. “I just look forward to being a fully functional human being again.”

Korso first went onto dialysis for his kidneys five years ago.

“I found out that my kidneys were in failure,” he said. “One day I went in for a routine exam and the on-call doctor just happened to decide to check my kidney function. ... Next thing I knew, I got a phone call saying I needed to get back to the hospital immediately because my kidneys were just, done. They failed very quickly. Within six months of getting the bad news, I was on dialysis.”

The doctors reasoned that his diabetes was the cause of his kidney decline.

“I am in end-stage kidney failure. My kidneys are basically gone,” Korso said. “Dialysis keeps me going. It cleans my blood and takes away excess fluid, because anything I drink, I can't process anymore. So that's what dialysis is for. Dialysis does keep you alive, but it also takes a major toll on your body. So transplant is the good way to go.”

According to his nephrologist — medical professionals who diagnose, treat and manage kidney issues — “When you do dialysis, you feel amazingly great right afterwards, because of course, your blood is clean and your body has been filtered. But it's literally like you're running a three- to four-hour marathon every day. Within a couple of hours after it's done, you're just exhausted. It's hard to lift anything on dialysis days, or do any amount of walking, because your body is just exhausted and put through the wringer.”

He goes in for dialysis three days a week at four hours a day.

“At first, I was working on dialysis days as well,” Korso said. “But then it just got to the point where I couldn't do that anymore. Dialysis days are just very rough days.”

Korso is on the list for a simultaneous kidney-pancreas transplant, an operation to place both a kidney and a pancreas into someone who has kidney failure related to type 1 diabetes. According to kidney.org, the waitlist for this procedure is about three years, and there are more than 2,000 candidates listed on the national registry.

“In March, I went to OHSU, where they would do the transplant, and I did nine hours of testing,” Korso said. “They did everything they could possibly do to test me. I've had a list of things that I've been going through, different vaccinations and appointments, just getting all of my ducks in a row and financially as well, to be able to do it. It'll be about three months I'll spend in Portland healing. I have to stay close to OHSU because they have to test me, my blood and my functions every other day for that time.”

He has needed to be vigilant about his health.

“I am immune compromised. If I became COVID positive or anything that, and I got the call for the kidney transplant, I wouldn't be able to go, because they couldn't have me in the facility if I was COVID positive. So that's been a factor as well,” he said.

Now, however, Korso is ready.

“The idea is, if you get the call, you'd immediately leave. You'd be able to just go and get it taken care of,” he said. “My bag is packed. I have instructions for people to, like, water my plants and take care of my place and stuff while I'm gone. I'm ready to go in a minute’s notice.”

But there are things he will need help with.

“The thing is, not only is it a physical and mentally stressful endeavor, it's also a financial one,” Korso said. “I have to be able to keep my apartment here while I'm gone, and then take care of my bills and things while I'm not able to work. … I just need some help with the financial aspect of it.”

Currently, Korso can only work two days a week due to his dialysis, so he is on disability to help make ends meet. The hospital stay and the months in Portland will also be expensive.

In 2019, several community members set up an account for Korso at Oregon Pacific Bank in Florence for people to help fund the transplant and accompanying costs.

And then, if everything goes well, Korso would be back in Florence, working more hours and being healthier than he has been in years. He’d also be able to see people he hasn’t seen since the pandemic began, and fly to meet the niece and nephew he hasn’t met yet.

“I'd be able to travel,” he said. “I haven’t been able to travel in at least five years. My siblings live in New Orleans.  I'd love to go see my brother and his kids and just start living again.”

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom, however. Korso has relied on the safe opportunities in Florence to still have a life outside of his days of dialysis, work and home.

“With all the protocols City Lights Cinemas has in place, I feel it's a very safe place to go. Movies have always been very important to me, and City Lights is one of my favorite places in the world. They're just amazing. I've been a movie person since I was a small child. So it feels really good to be able to get out and do that again.”

Korso is also actively interested in horror, and has connected with people in the online horror community. One of those ways is through his drag persona, Ana Khonda, who he calls the “Corpse With The Curves.” He teams up with Jason Wood’s Fanny Rugburn for a show they call “Fanana.”

“Drag and the Fanana shows are always a great time,” Korso said. “Before the pandemic hit and we were all on lockdown, Fanny and I were planning on doing a traveling show, going from Florence up and down the coast and inwards towards Portland. But we had to cancel all that. I was just too stubborn to give up, so I created ‘Dead Time Stories’ on Facebook Live every Friday. It was very fun and I loved creating content for that. I was one of the first local drag performers to create an online, weekly show kind of thing.”

Ana and Fanny were able to put on several performances during the pandemic, including “Fanana on Ice” last December at Florence Golf Links.

“We are planning a Christmas show for this year. We're actually getting together in a couple of weeks to start building the show up. So yes, it is going to happen this year. We're excited about it,” Korso said.

But his alter ego isn’t the only one who loves the stage. Korso has performed in many of Florence’s biggest productions, including “The Santaland Diaries,” “Chicago,” “Cabaret, “Into the Woods,” “Leading Ladies,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Camelot” and “Mamma Mia!” These shows were put on by Last Resort Players, Class Act Theatre, Poison Pen Players, It's About Time Productions and others.

“I miss my theater family so much,” Korso said. “I haven't done any theater in three years. One, because of the pandemic. And two, because now with working on transplant stuff, I could be called at any minute once I'm on the list. So I can't really invest in projects that. My theater life has been put on hold as well, for sure.”

He hopes the next step — actually getting the phone call saying he should get in the car and get to Portland — will change his life.

“That’s my story. It’s time for people to know,” he said. “A lot of times, people don't really know what goes into even attempting to get a transplant, because it is a daunting procedure to even try to get on the list. Now, on top of all of the health issues, it's a lot to take on. I'm fighting for my life. And I'm ready to do that.”

A new GoFundMe has started for Korso at https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-road-to-transplant-is-long

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