Our December blog series is focused on those who received the Gift of Life during the holiday season. Titled “It’s a Wonderful Life,” recipients share their transplantation, and transformation, stories with us.
Always remember, each and every one of us has the opportunity to give the gift of a wonderful life by registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor. We hope that you will read and share these uplifting stories.
“You look terrific…so much color…so full of life!” These were my husband Phil’s first words to me as I awoke from my kidney transplant surgery. Some thirteen hours earlier, while we waited for our dinner to be served at Max and Erma’s, my cell phone rang. I answered and it was “the call.” I told Phil, “It’s OSU Transplant and we have to be there in an hour!” We jumped, we rushed, our sweet little waitress bagged the dinner to go that we would never eat, we stopped quickly at home for my pre-packed hospital bag, and we made it to the hospital within that hour.
After the surgery I told Phil I felt great. I couldn’t believe how wonderful I felt – and so soon after surgery! He was amazed and told me how he had been so accustomed to how sick I was and how bad I felt, that the change was very dramatic.
Fourteen years later, I still feel so fortunate and blessed to have had this life-saving and altering kidney transplant. I received the Gift of Life from a donor family whose courageous and generous decision at the saddest time in their lives allowed me to have a healthy life once again.
At 21, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). It is a congenital disease in which numerous cysts grow continuously and degenerate the kidney and eventually its function while making the kidneys expand, oftentimes reaching football size proportion. At 23 and 25, I went through two major surgeries on my kidneys to have cysts removed and drained to help combat the degeneration and relieve the growth pressure. The surgeries were only able to provide temporary relief.
At 45, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I underwent two surgeries for removal of the cancer followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. As I reached my first year of being a breast cancer survivor, I knew my kidneys were losing function quickly. I wondered with my history of breast cancer if I could even be a transplant candidate.
Two and a half years later, I needed dialysis. I was a candidate for and chose Peritoneal Kidney dialysis. Phil and I went to classes for a week at the dialysis center to learn all of the sterile techniques and procedures to connect the bags of fluid that would go into and be drained from my peritoneal cavity four times a day, functioning in place of my kidneys. After a few months and success at this “manual dialysis,” we were able to change the daily dialysis procedure to nightly by using a machine called the “cycler.” We were trained in its use, connecting, disconnecting, draining, and we became accustomed to its many beeps, buzzes, and occasional alarms throughout each night. All in all it was about a 10-hour per night process. My kidneys continued to decline and I had to add a manual dialysis exchange to my daily schedule in addition to the nightly cycler.
Eight months after beginning dialysis and undergoing several tests and screenings, I was medically cleared for the transplant waiting list.
After two years and two months of my daily dialysis treatments, we received “the call” and I was told that I was designated as the primary recipient. The team at the OSU Wexner Medical Center was amazing in their preparation of me and my husband for what was ahead of us in a short and well-orchestrated time frame from arrival to transplant surgery and recovery. The surgery went well, my hospital stay and recovery went well, and I made it home one hour before the Buckeyes kicked off to win the national championship! It was then that I made a personal goal and commitment to give the best of care to the precious gift that I have received.
This Gift of Life gave me back good health, freedom from daily dialysis treatments, and renewed my life and uplifted my spirit. I am able to oversee and help with the many needs of my disabled child, take long walks with Phil and our two Labradors, and volunteer with Lifeline of Ohio to promote organ, eye and tissue donation and honor donor families.
Not one to refer to myself as an athlete, I surprised myself and have competed in the last two National Transplant Games as a 5K walker, a bowler in team and individual competition and most recently as a breast and backstroke swimmer.
As a Buckeye GIFT support group member, I enjoy meeting and socializing with fellow transplant recipients and donor families. I visit with new transplant patients and the OSU transplant team through our Halloween, Christmas Caroling, and Valentine activities and also volunteer for “Donate Life Shawls of Support” by crocheting shawls to give to donor families. During a recent holiday season, I made two shawls to give to my own donor family.
I think of, am thankful for, and honor my donor hero and family each day and live life to its fullest. I am now a sixteen-year breast cancer survivor and a twelve-year transplant recipient. On my special day each year, Phil and I remember and celebrate the Gift of Life call at Max and Erma’s over a dinner we can finish and conversation loaded with vivid memories.