by Susan Walland (Kidney Recipient)

I once read that character is what you are in the dark. In order to appreciate the richness and light that presently fills my life I must share the times that required great character. Not only on my part, but also on the behalf of the people I am blessed to have surrounding me.

I was diagnosed with a kidney disease known as heredity nephritis at the age of 18 years. Heredity nephritis is a disease passed from parent to child causing inflammation of the kidney resulting in renal failure. Although the early stages of my disease were evident at a pre school age the disease had little effect on my childhood and early adult life. It took 39 years for the disease to advance to the point of earning the title of end stage renal disease. As my creatine and BUN began to rise I started to experience more complications. My blood pressure, calcium and phosphorus levels were very high while my bone destiny, kidney function and energy level were deteriorating. My kidneys were no longer able to rid my body of poisons or maintain a balanced blood level.

I surrendered to hemo-dialysis when I became swollen due to fluid retention, experienced difficulty breathing, hypertension and severe fatigue. Hemo-dialysis is a treatment used to remove waste products from the blood and excess fluid from the body. Dialysis is a miraculous thing in that it kept me alive while I searched for a healthier solution. My dialysis was done at the Ohio State University Clinic. I went for treatment three times a week for a duration of 3.5 hours each session. The clinic treats many people at one time. Going to the center on the first day is a little like the first day of school. I was suddenly thrown into an unsolicited situation with a group of strangers. The only commonality is the fact that we all needed to survive. Dialysis was our lifeline. During the dialysis treatment we all sat in a big room hooked up to our respective machines and we waited.

Dialysis is the beginning of the waiting game. The length of the wait is the big unknown. Will the wait for a transplant be months or years? Will each one of us live long enough to receive a transplant? To this day I vividly recall the smells, sounds and faces of dialysis. The smell of topical medications, the humming and dinging of the machines and the resigned looks on the faces of its captive audience as we sit and watch our blood flow from our bodies through the machine and back into our bodies hour after hour. Each passing minute relieving the pressure of the fluids that has accumulated since the last treatment. Each one of us sit with the guarded hope that the fluid will not come off took quickly. Becoming too dry too fast results in severe muscle cramps and rapid decline in blood pressure. The staff quickly addresses and corrects this situation. However, the minutes between the crash and the correction are painful. When the treatments became too overwhelming I would try to mentally escape by listening to Mozart via my headset. My mind often wandered to people and situations in my past that required great charter and courage. I thought of my brother, Richard, who died of AIDS five years preceding my transplant. He displayed a character, courage and calmness I could not begin to understand. I also thought of my battle with breast cancer four years prior to my renal failure. Dialysis afforded me the time to think about the difficult situations we all face. It made me realize that character is truly what we are in the dark.

One constant during each crisis in my life was my sister, Diana Dague McCorkle. She was always there offering comfort and support in many fashions. I never had to ask my sister to consider donating one of her kidneys. She simply stepped up to the plate and offered. I am not sure I could have asked my sister to provide me with such a gift. No matter how ones life is touched by organ and tissue donation the hardest part is asking the question. The question to oneself with regard to becoming an organ and tissue donor, as well as the question to a family member with respect to considering becoming a living donor. On one hand it is a hard thing to ask, on the other hand asking the question shows the highest degree of character.

I had a successful kidney transplant at the Ohio State University Medical Center in June 1998. I am feeling wonderful! I work full-time, I eat and drink what ever I want, and I travel and enjoy all the freedoms that come from being liberated from the dialysis machine. My sister has also made an excellent recovery. People often ask me if having a kidney transplant has changed me. I must confess that due to all my life experiences I now find that I pause more. I pause to feel the sun on my face, to hear the laughter of someone I love and to note the beauty in each passing moment. Today, I pause more because someone displayed great character by asking the hard question.