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Tuesday’s Tale: The Glass is Half Full

Ah, Chicken Pox. This not-so-thrilling experience as a child may be considered a “rite of passage” to some. Itchy red pox that you are forbidden to scratch, the smell of calamine lotion and a few extra days off school; these are things that we all may be able to recall as a childhood memory. For me, this experience ended up being something no one expected.

It was Thanksgiving Day when I was 12-years-old that I came down with this itchy condition. My parents realized that the insatiable thirst, lethargic behavior and extreme weight loss may be something more than just the pox.  By Christmas that same year, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Jeff Longwell

Even with this disease, I always kept my “glass half full” optimism. I was lucky to remain in general good health throughout my youth. I always just figured there was someone out there who was much worse off than I was. Keeping that frame of mind made it easy to count my blessings.

Other than my insulin dependency, I led a fairly normal life. I grew up in Hudson, Ohio with my parents and younger brother, where I had the opportunity to do the same things as other kids my age. Throughout my teenage years and into college, I was able to control my blood sugar. I had always been very active and I never had much of a sweet tooth, so both of these things contributed to staying in pretty great health. I went to Bowling Green University to study Marketing and International Business. I even lived overseas in France for a year during college!

In 1988, I moved to Columbus and had a great job in human resources. Everything was smooth sailing until 1998 when I began having vision problems. I made an appointment with my nephrologist (kidney specialist) and learned that I had diabetic retinopathy, leaking blood vessels in the eyes. I also found that I had slightly elevated Creatinine levels, and I knew I had to watch for that because it measures how well your kidneys are functioning by showing how much waste they filter. Diabetes can do major damage on kidney function, so tests like these become extremely important, no matter how healthy you are. In my case, being as healthy as I was, it helped show the damage the doctors and I couldn’t see.

Over the next eight years I was able to avoid any major hospitalizations. I had made a promise to myself that I was not going to let my disease run my life. I knew I had to play the hand I was dealt and letting my disease affect me was going to hinder no one, except me. I still kept my head up on my birthday, April 25, 2006 when I was officially listed for a kidney and pancreas transplant. Despite all my efforts to stay healthy my kidney function was decreasing at a rapid pace.

It was four months later, on August 25 when a young lady by the name of Rachel called from OSU and asked, “How would you like to come in for your transplant today?” I was completely caught off guard. I just had to sit and stare for a minute so that I could take it all in. By 5:30 p.m., I was in surgery. I was 42 at the time and I felt so blessed to have only been on the list for a short period of time. To sum up the experience with one word, it would be: surreal. It was my first major surgery and the whole experience was seamless. I feel as though I coasted right through it.

For the next year I was completely insulin free and it felt amazing. No insulin pens or medicine. I wasn’t constantly worrying about the possibility of my blood sugar spiking or dropping and I didn’t need to focus so much on my diet. I had been constantly aware of all of these things for more than 30 years! Now it just felt like I was forgetting something every time I left the house. Over that period of time I felt amazing. I renewed energy and my new kidney was functioning better than ever! I was so lucky to have avoided dialysis treatments and I knew I was going to take the best care that I could of my new kidney and pancreas.

My freedom from insulin lasted a year before my new pancreas stopped functioning. I am back on insulin but I am perfectly alright with that – I have my life! As long as my kidney keeps up the good work, I will be just fine.

Another favorite – surfing!

I am thankful that my donor gave me the ability to live a full life. I have gone to Yellowstone National Park and will be traveling to Yosemite in the summer of 2010 with friends. I am also taking my nephew, Adam, to Disney at the end of June and it means so much to be such a big part of his life! I own a home in Clintonville, where I love to garden and I have been working in human resources for 12 years for Banana Republic, a Gap brand.

There are not many organizations in my life that I would say I am very passionate about, but Donate Life and Lifeline of Ohio are right at the top of my list. I have always been a registered donor and my car even dons the “Donate Life” license plates with my transplant date. I believe that the beauty of this organization is the audience it touches. With over 107.000 men, women and children in America waiting on a life-saving transplant, it is hard to think of another cause that can bring people of all races, religions, backgrounds’ and genders together for one common purpose and goal…to save lives. How simple it is to save so many with one word, “Yes.” To me, it means my future. Because someone said yes, I will have so many more opportunities to create memories and fulfill my dreams for years to come. I will spend the rest of my days being thankful for my wonderful gift and doing everything I can to ‘pay it forward.’ Every day is a gift and I will do everything I can not to waste it. My glass is truly half full!

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