A Blessed Survivor
ABOVE: Kidney recipient Margaret Petrosky, and her daughter, Jenny.
“You look terrific…so much color…so full of life!” These were my husband’s, Phil, first words to me as I awoke from my kidney transplant surgery. Some 13 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 is 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 prepacked hospital bag, and we made it to the hospital within that hour.
Awakening, I told him I felt great, I couldn’t believe how great I felt…and so soon after surgery. Continuing to be amazed, he said we’ve been so accustomed to how sick you were, how you felt and looked, this change is so dramatic…you look so healthy!
I feel so fortunate and blessed to have this life saving and altering kidney, the Gift of Life from a donor family whose courageous and generous decision at the saddest time in their life allows 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; thereafter, about every two years, I underwent a process known as “aspiration” in which a needle was navigated through my back to the kidneys to drain the excessive fluid from the cysts. Periodically, larger cysts would grow so much that they burst leaving me in pain and debilitated for days.
At 45, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, 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 at a quicker rate. 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 OSU team 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! I made a personal goal and commitment to give the best of care to the precious gift that I have received.
This gift 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 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 three National Transplant Games as a 5K walker, bowler in team and individual competition, as a breast and backstroke swimmer, and most recently played badminton. As a Buckeye GIFT support group member, I enjoy meeting and socializing with fellow transplant recipients and donor families, and I visit with new transplant patients and the OSU transplant team through our Halloween, Christmas Caroling, Valentine, and Summer Kickoff activities. I also volunteer with the National Kidney Foundation of Ohio assisting with Team Ohio development and activities for the US Transplant Games which take place every two years.
I think of, am thankful for, and honor my donor hero and family each day and live life to its fullest. I am now an eleven-year breast cancer survivor and a full six-year plus 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.