From Dialysis to Dancing

By DaMia Williams, kidney recipient

It is said that to watch a dancer dance, it is to hear our hearts speak. Dancing is my life’s passion. But in the blink of an eye, I went from dancing to dialysis. And I was just 13 years old.

I was a typical teenager when my health drastically changed.  I began to vomit, had little energy and just wasn’t myself. Doctors gave me several diagnoses, but no treatment plan ever quite worked to make me feel better.

After months of not feeling well I was sent for blood work with the hope we would finally get answers. I went for the blood draw before class and mom drove me to dance afterwards.

I am happiest when I dance, and have been twirling since I was three. As I was just beginning class, my mom entered the room – which typically isn’t allowed! She told me my doctor called and I had to go to the hospital immediately. I remember gathering my things, getting in the car and asking my mom, “Did my kidneys fail?” I have no idea why I asked that question. As she drove to the hospital, we held hands and prayed.

I soon learned I was in renal failure – my kidneys were only functioning at 5 percent. Doctors were baffled because I was still attending school and dancing. They thought I was homeschooled based on my kidney function!

After a series of surgeries, I was told I would need to begin dialysis immediately and be listed for a kidney transplant. I remember being very confused and didn’t quite know what everything meant. My best friend’s mom, my Girl Scout troop leader and a few teachers were tested to be living donors, but unfortunately, nothing panned out. My name was added to the national transplant list and I began my wait, along with thousands of other Americans, for a deceased donor.

While it was hard to be hooked up to a machine for so long during dialysis, I got used to it. Although I missed my carefree teenage life of hanging out with my friends.

On May 20, 2017, after more than a year waiting for a donor, I got the call! My mom and I were watching my brother’s basketball tournament and we were on a break between games. My mom received a call, but didn’t answer. When they called back again she answered and I heard her say, “We’re on the way right now.” I was so happy and grateful for the gift I was about to receive, but in shock!

We got to the hospital as quickly as we could and I was prepped for surgery. The last thing I remember is thanking the operating team for doing my surgery before the anesthesia started to work.

Waking up from surgery the next day, I felt better! My doctor said it was the perfect kidney for me.

Six-months after my transplant I received a letter from my donor family. I learned my donor was a dancer and began dancing at the age of three, just like me! Upon receiving the letter, my family wrote back to express our appreciation, love and gratitude.

Because of her generous gift, I was able to return to my passion – dancing. My donor takes every step, twirl and bow with me – won’t you consider registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor?

Tim’s Purposeful Decision

By Renee Haley, donor wife 

My husband Tim was tremendous. A tremendous athlete, husband, father and friend. He and I were married in 1998 and are the proud parents of three boys. Tim took his duty as father very seriously. He was their soccer coach, volunteered with their Boy Scout troop and worked nights so he could stay home with the boys during the day while I worked.

Tim was also an honored and decorated member of the Columbus Police Force. He joined the department when he was 21 years old and spent the next 21 years working in the Narcotics Division, the K-9 unit and was a CPD helicopter pilot. His final assignment was as a SWAT officer. He dutifully served the people of Columbus, loved his job and felt he was making a positive difference for the community.

Unexpectedly during a department training, Tim suffered a brain aneurysm. I remember getting the call while I was at a school conference. I wasn’t able to pick up the phone and no one left a voicemail. By the time I connected with someone they told me Tim had been injured and that they were sending a car to get me. I remember thinking, it couldn’t be that bad and that I could drive to the hospital myself. His boss told me to stay where I was and that someone was coming to get me.

His shadowbox dedication at the Lifeline of Ohio offices

I realized the severity of the situation when we arrived at the hospital and saw numerous police cruisers lining the front of the building. Doctors did everything they could to save him, but Tim never regained consciousness and was declared brain dead on August 26, 2008. That is his End Of Watch (EOW) date, as they say in the law enforcement world. He was 42 years old.

As my heart was breaking, I knew other families were receiving the beacon of hope they had been desperately waiting for. You see, my husband was a registered organ, eye and tissue donor and saved the lives of five people through organ donation and restored sight to two through cornea donation. In fact, one of his kidneys went to his aunt in Alabama who had been on dialysis for years. She is still alive and doing well!

One of the things my boys and I take from his untimely passing is to not be just takers, but to be givers. After seeing how Tim’s purposeful decision to be an organ donor brought hope out of tragedy, and to honor his final, generous, life-giving act, I made the decision to become a registered donor. I had always known he felt it was the right thing to do, however I had never signed up. He was such a generous man and his final act of donation proves that.

Our sons were young – 9, 7 and 4 when he passed – but they’ve grown to know what an incredible and loving man he was. Our first-born, now 18-year old son, made the decision to follow in his father’s footsteps and register as a donor. I am very, very proud of his decision. Won’t you be a part of his tremendous legacy and register today in honor of Tim?

My Renewed Life

By Tracy Reifer, liver recipient

I love spring and the newness of life it brings – the grass turns green, flowers begin to bloom and birds energetically sing! It’s also a time for Easter, many family birthday parties and Mother’s Day. All things I love, but in the spring of 2015, instead of preparing for the new season, I was fighting for my life.

Let me go back to almost ten years earlier, in 2006, when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease – Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC). In most cases, people with PBC can live long lives and never need a liver transplant. However, my case was severe and doctors informed me I would need a transplant to survive. I was shocked.

Fast forward, my health had been mostly okay with only the occasional hospital stay. Suddenly, my health began to deteriorate. Even though I looked healthy on the outside, inside my liver was losing its fight with my immune system. At this point my doctor diagnosed me with end stage liver disease and recommended I be evaluated for a possible liver transplant. I went through the various tests and was placed on the national liver transplant waiting list in April 2015.

Before transplant and after

I began rapidly losing weight, strength, and hope – I was so weak I could barely climb the flight of stairs to my bedroom. I had no choice but to go on disability from work. I simply didn’t have the strength to keep up with the career I loved and had worked in for more than 20 years.

The effects of cirrhosis began taking a toll on my kidneys, and I was retaining a large volume of fluid which required weekly six-hour round trips to the hospital for my abdomen to be drained. At times, as much as five-liters were drained in a session. Imagine two and a half, two-liter bottles of soda! Only after this procedure did I actually have room for any food in my stomach. I was able to eat, on average, one good meal per week.

As spring was fading into summer, I was beginning to lose hope. I had only been on the transplant waiting list a total of seven weeks, and even though it doesn’t sound like a long time, it was very difficult.

But! On the first day of summer in 2015, I received the call I had been so desperate for – a liver had been found for me! I received the transplant the next day and when I woke up, I remember feeling incredible. As soon as I could, I began walking the halls of the hospital.  What once had been a struggle was now a joy!

By early winter of 2015, I was doing a more intense exercise routine, and decided to try running.  I spent the next spring running 5K races and training for the Transplant Games of America. By the end of that summer, I was an Olympic bronze medalist in the women’s 1,500 meter and 800 meter runs! Since then, I have participated in more than 25 5K’s and have also participated in the World Transplant Games.

I’m alive and thriving today because of my donor – my hero! Just this past spring we welcomed our third granddaughter, who I would have never been able to meet if not for my donor. I also turned 50, an age I wasn’t sure I would reach. But, thanks to my donor, I did. He has given me my life, my health and so much more.  He has given me everything.

I know misconceptions can keep people from registering. I learned my donor was on kidney dialysis at the time of his death and he was still able to donate his liver to me. Everyone has the power to be someone’s hero. All it takes is saying ‘yes’ to being a registered organ, eye and tissue donor.

Steve’s Unselfish Gifts

By Nancy Wharton, donor wife

Beloved husband. Best friend. An amazing man who had a positive outlook on life. That was my Steve. He and I met our freshman year in college and were together ever since – more than 40 years. This year would have been our 36th wedding anniversary.

Steve never met anyone who didn’t instantly become a friend. He was quick witted and had a great sense of humor. He loved his nieces and nephews as his own, was an avid outdoorsman and just an overall great person.

In my thoughts, Steve and I had many, many more years together. However, that was not meant to be. This past Memorial Day, he didn’t wake up. I called paramedics and he was rushed by ambulance to St. Ann’s Hospital. Despite the heroic efforts of the incredible medical staff, Steve was unable to recover from irreparable brain damage due to lack of oxygen, and passed away.

Steve and I had been registered donors since we were 16. It’s something we were both aware of, but hadn’t discussed all that much. It wasn’t until I was told Steve would never recover that I began to have conversations about honoring his wish to be a donor if at all possible.

He was able to donate corneas, bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves and skin. We know he’s given sight to two and healed dozens of others through tissue donation. It is a hope of mine to someday meet the people my husband has helped. It means the world to my family and I that Steve was able to make such an impact on total stranger’s lives.

As I reflect on my life with Steve, I find myself asking what God’s purpose was with this. And then I think of all the people he so unselfishly gave to. All of the people he is saving through his untimely death. It does my heart good to know he was thoughtful and caring enough to be a registered organ, eye and tissue donor.

I ask you to consider registering today to be a hero of donation, as my husband was. His gifts of sight and tissue were not just healing for his recipients, they are also healing for me as well.

 

 

A Sweet, Second Chance

By Michael Gray, transplant recipient

In August 2016, to my utter and total surprise, my health took a serious turn for the worse. For being 71 years-old, I had always been fit, relatively healthy and in good shape.

On August 8, I began to vomit blood and had to be rushed to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. I was admitted and after a nine-day stay, doctors discovered three cancerous tumors in my liver, which was not functioning well. Out of nowhere my health was spiraling downward.

I was diagnosed with NASH – non-alcoholic sclerosis of the liver – and began chemotherapy. At the same time as chemo, I was undergoing a battery of testing to see if I would quality for the national liver transplant waiting list.

Everything was happening so fast. In January, I completed and passed all the medical examinations and was added to the transplant list. My wait began. I had no idea how long it would be, but my wife Betty, my friends and family and my faith in God carried me through.

And carry me through, He did. About a month after being added to the list I received the call! It had been a typical February day. As my wife and I were getting ready for bed, I remember thinking about where to go for our St. Valentine’s Day dinner when the phone rang. It was my transplant coordinator telling me a donor had been found! I was at the hospital and being prepped for surgery 45 minutes later. It all happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to worry, only to pray.

My transplant surgeon and I.

I received my new liver on Valentine’s Day, and awoke five days and three surgeries later with a fresh lease on life. After an additional week recovering in the hospital, I was able to go home and begin my new life. Now, at 72 years-old, my recovery process has been excellent! I still can’t exercise how I used to be able to, but I feel great! All thanks to my donor and my God.

While I don’t know anything about my donor, I have sent their family a letter through Lifeline of Ohio. I expressed my deep condolences and also thanked them for this incredible gift. I am alive today because of their loved one.

In honor of my anonymous donor, my hero, I ask you to consider becoming a registered organ, eye and tissue donor. You could save and heal so many.