Tuesday’s Tale: Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring
Growing up, I never thought twice about being an organ donor. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I never thought that it would become such an intricate part of my everyday life.
I have always been active. As a child I bounced back and forth between Hawaii and the Philippines with my family, because my Dad was in the Air Force. In my 20s I spent some time in Los Angeles, before deciding to call Ohio my home. When visiting family in Ohio as a child it just always felt natural for me to be here. Other than a stressful job in marketing, I was happy; I had a great life.
Things began to change in 2003. I was 33 years old and became sick, having headaches and vomiting frequently. At the time, I didn’t think much about it. I figured it was stress from work. After a couple of months I decided to go to the doctor. Shortly thereafter, I get a phone call from him saying, “You need to go the emergency room, right away.” He was saying things like high blood pressure, anemia and kidney failure. The words wouldn’t sink in. I figured that all they would do was prescribe some medicine and send me on my way. I went to the emergency room on my lunch break and I asked a girlfriend go with me – we even stopped for lunch on the way!
Once we arrived at the hospital, I was surprised to find out that they had a room waiting for me. Before I knew it, I was hooked up to so many machines that I became scared. By the end of the day, I was diagnosed with kidney disease. I had never even heard of kidney disease! I was so convinced that I had everything in my life under control –why was all of this happening to me? I had to accept that dialysis and a transplant were my only options.
When dialysis began in January 2004, I was embarrassed. I decided to go by myself because I didn’t want anyone to know. I had been on my own for so long, how was this going to make me look? That first time, being alone, was quite scary.
Dialysis was certainly a grueling process. It had both its good days and bad and when I began treatment I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The process became less intimidating, as I was surrounded by such caring nurses and staff who tried and put me at ease. Seven people stepped up (including my dad, brother and now-husband Chris) and were tested to see if they were a match to donate a kidney.
Unfortunately, no one was a match and I decided to go on the national transplant waiting list for a kidney in September of that year. By that time, I had begun to feel more comfortable with my situation and began to accept what was happening. Once I was listed I tried to make things better for myself. Switching to Peritoneal dialysis (a form of dialysis done at home) was one of the best things I did. It gave me a sense of freedom and I was able to do it at night. I did everything I could to live my life as normal as possible, I even bought a puppy and married Chris one year after being listed, September 24, 2005. Still, I felt like I was waiting for my life to really begin.
To this day, I still remember when I received the call. It was 7 a.m. on a Sunday and for some reason I happened to wake up early. My first thought was “Who the heck calls at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning?” I didn’t think that it was “the call.” After recovering from the shock, we headed to The Ohio State University Medical Center to be prepped for surgery.
I was so excited, I could barely contain myself. They couldn’t operate on me until 10 that night because I had gotten myself so worked up! I had to stay in a room with my husband until I calmed down and my blood pressure lowered. When I woke up from surgery, it almost didn’t feel real. Despite the pain, I felt great immediately.
Four short weeks later I was able to return to work at the same dialysis center where I had been a patient at not too long before.
Everything was going well until about six months after my transplant. I developed “Survivor’s Guilt.” I just felt so guilty about the fact that I received a second chance from a donor who died for me to live. I was in a state of despair. It was a nurse from Ohio State, named Donna, who began to help me find my way. She set me up with different resources and, eventually I joined a group made up of other recipients and other donor family members called Buckeye GIFT. It was my first time around others who had received transplants or had been touched by donation. They knew how I felt and they helped me find my happiness again. It has been more three years and I am constantly amazed at how far I have come. I now know that sometimes being scared is perfectly ok. I have accepted my gift and I want to do everything I can to take care of it and live the best life possible.
Today, I am working in the Fresenius Medical Center with all of the dialysis patients. I teach the newly diagnosed dialysis patients about their different treatment options. Having been in their shoes, I want them to know I understand what they are going through. I have also been spending my time volunteering for Lifeline of Ohio so that I may stand as a personal testament to the power of donation. While living out my amazing gift of a second chance at life, I have decided to pursue a new dream. I am studying to be a transplant nurse and cannot wait to start my new career! I have also been able to see my nieces grow, I bought a house and have been able to spent precious time with my husband.
With all of these amazing opportunities in my life, the simple things bring the biggest smile to my face. Visiting the Columbus Zoo was once was a favorite pastime but was a challenge before my transplant. I used to always be so out of breath that I could never enjoy myself and had to sit down frequently to take breaks. Now I canwalk around the grounds without sitting down once! It is a simple thing that continues to stand as a little victory for me every time I am able to do it.
I believe that my experience has made me stronger. I am grateful for my donor’s selfless generosity and I have found my inner strength. I know that things can change in an instant but we cannot take anything for granted. I will continue to hold onto my hope for the positive things the future will bring.