It’s a Wonderful Life: My Sister, My Saint
Our December blog series will be focused on those who received the Gift of Life during the holiday season. Titled “It’s a Wonderful Life,” ten recipients will share their transplantation stories through our webpage and social media outlets. The thread that ties the series together is this simple question – “My life is wonderful because…”
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.
My life is wonderful because I am now free from the dialysis pole! I can run half marathons, travel and spend precious time with my family and friends since receiving my kidney transplant. I can now cross off items on my “second chance at life list.”
A bond between siblings is sacred. It is a bond of love and trust. I am lucky enough to share a bond with my sister that goes way beyond this. My name is Benita Smith and on December 2, 2005, my older sister Jackie did something so selfless, so honorable and so generous for me- she gave me a second chance at life with a new kidney.
In 1993, I was diagnosed with Early Focal Glumerosclerosis-a kidney disease that I was able to control with medication until June 2004. In those 11 years, I had become a teacher, gotten married and was blessed with my two beautiful children, Kendall and Bailey. Things took a turn for the worse, and I went on dialysis in 2003. My kidney function had decreased to 15 percent and my red blood cell count was very low. I tried to do my dialysis at home, but – I developed a very serious infection called Peritonitis. I ended up in the hospital and underwent several surgeries. I continued dialysis when I was released but I became so weak and tired that I had to go on disability leave from my job at Columbus Public Schools.
I trudged through my dialysis treatments month after month, day after day. I had to, it was saving my life. I knew no matter how uncomfortable or tough it may be, I had to do it. If not for me, then for my husband, Kioshi, and my children. Luckily, I had the support of a strong and wonderful family behind me. They helped out in so much during that time by babysitting and pitching in around the house. I am so grateful for having them in my life.
I remember one day in August, a little over a year after I started dialysis, I had a particularly rough treatment. When I got home, my sister Jackie was babysitting, and she asked what my blood type was. We were both A positive. When we realized that our blood types matched, I was so surprised when she offered to get tested to see if she would be a living donor match. I didn’t know what to say. Jackie is 10 years older than me and has always taken care of me in a sense, but donating a kidney? How generous and selfless!
The next two months of testing felt almost like years, but the staff at the Ohio State University Medical Center was amazing. They were so wonderful to have around during the process. We scheduled surgery for December 2, 2005. Everything went perfectly and we were both able to leave the hospital a few days later.
The recovery was very smooth. Jackie and I recovered together at her home for two weeks post surgery. It was the most time she and I had spent together in one stretch of time and it was actually a lot of fun! We had always been as close as two people could be, despite our 10 year age difference, but we spent those two weeks talking and bonding and taking care of each other. How lucky I am to have a sister like her in my life. On February 25, just three short months after our surgery, Jackie and participated in the National Kidney Foundation walk. It felt amazing to be out, walking for a good cause and feeling so healthy and alive!
It has been nearly five years and Jackie is doing wonderful! She has a golden retriever, Quincy, and is completing her 14th year as a communications specialist at Nationwide. Jackie is an avid golfer and has had no medical problems or issues since donating her kidney. She and I share this unspoken bond and she knows that I will do everything I can to ensure that I live a long, healthy life. Jackie knows that I will do everything possible to take care of my precious gift.
So much has happened in the last five years for me as well. I have watched my children grow and flourish and I am so grateful that I can be around to take care of them. I have coached their T-Ball teams and have served a Brownie Leader for my 7- year -old daughter, Bailey. I make sure that my children are educated on the importance of donation and that they know the life they have is a gift. As a family we were able to take some fun trips to Washington D.C and Disney World. I was able to see the beach for the first time as well. What a beautiful sight! I am now back at work for the Columbus City School System as a literacy specialist and am in graduate school. I am prepared to graduate in May 2011 from Ohio Dominican University.
Donation was never something I had thought about before I got sick. Now I see the difference a transplant can make in someone’s life. My sister and I hope that people see the continuum of the donation story through our experience. We want to influence the African American community when it comes to donation and educate them on how important it is to become a registered organ and tissue donor. Most people in need of a kidney are African American, yet they are least likely to register. We want them to know how much they can improve the quality of life for multiple people. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a living donor. I will never take my new life for granted and every year on my “second birthday” I remember how lucky I am to have this opportunity I will do everything I can to experience it to the fullest.