Don Willis- Kidney Recipient
His story is our story. My husband Don began his journey into transplant when we had only been married a few short years. In 1985 Don developed glomerulonephritis and became very sick. At the time we were living our version of the American Dream; two small children, an active church life, a house, careers and close family. We played a sport that we loved dearly, tennis. His illness turned our lives upside down, we were devastated. Thankfully the treatments and medication that Don received at the University of Kentucky returned his kidney function and we were able to return to our active lives with gratitude and thankfulness. In the year 2000, everything changed. Don’s kidney function plummeted and he returned to UK for testing. Our lives were very busy, our daughter was about to graduate from Prestonsburg High School and our son was a talented football star for the Blackcats. Our worst nightmare was confirmed, Don’s kidney function would not return to normal and he would require dialysis to live. Three times a week we awoke very early for Don to go to dialysis, then he would steady himself and prepare to go to work at Highlands Regional Medical Center. I truly can’t comprehend how he was able to endure those dark days. During this time we tried our best to function as a family. We somehow managed to work and play, laugh and cry. We even traveled with our son’s baseball team for a week at baseball camp at the beach, and our dialysis center helped us arrange treatment in Florida. Don also completed his testing to be placed on the waiting list at UK’s Transplant Clinic. We stayed close to the phone and even arranged ways for the clinic to reach us while we traveled with the football team that fall. We lived on that roller coaster for a 15 months until October 13, 2001. The phone rang. Don was at dialysis and I was home on that Saturday morning, washing Joey’s football uniform from the previous night’s muddy game. It was the transplant coordinator; they had a kidney and he was the primary recipient. The next few hours were a whirlwind of activity spent packing and calling friends and family. So just as so many days of our marriage it was Don and I alone, only this time we were on the way to the hospital to receive the gift of life, a kidney transplant. Of course we were scared, excited, terrified, amazed; every emotion possible was sparking between us like tiny lightning bolts. What do you say? What do you not say? How can you every imagine that you will be in that position and how do you move forward? You do it one step at a time frankly. A huge part of our lives had been our son, Joey, and his football team. Don had coached these guys since kindergarten, and this season they were great! We were in the zenith of the season and our son was the starting quarterback. So on that cold Saturday night with the lights of Lexington flickering on and families coming together for their dinners, we are in a pre-operative area of UK receiving first doses of anti-rejection medication and IV fluids. We were each alone, together. The rest of the story is like the beginning, ups and downs, wins and loses. Don did receive the transplant that night and on Friday morning we sat at the end of his bed awaiting the medical team. We were dressed for game day because we had a football game to watch! The team that year went to the state championships, our son scored two touchdowns in that game. Don never missed a game, watching in a medical mask from the sidelines. That mask though could not hide his smile because he was happy to be alive, happy that he felt better and stronger. His story is our story, and I’m proud to be the author!
Kaye Willis (Don’s Wife)