Life has diverse meaning for everyone, but when you experience life from a different perspective, it takes on an exceptional meaning. You see, I developed Type 1 diabetes at the age of five. I was totally dependent on insulin, taking two shots a day as well as trying to control it with my diet. I was no different than any other kid, I just had to take medicine an accepted part of my life. However, it was different when I was at a birthday party and could not have cake or had to pass up sweets while at school or any other place for that matter. It was just my way of life that I was accustomed to. I had a very productive childhood participating in sports throughout school, even college.
In 1993, at the age of 28, I developed kidney disease. After two years and the long-time effects, my diabetic specialist asked if I would consider a kidney and pancreas transplant? The University of Kentucky had just gotten a new renowned transplant specialist. I agreed with apprehension and had a consultation. I was evaluated for an entire year, checking various systems repeatedly. In February 1996, I went on the transplant list. This was a time before cell phones so I was given a pager in case of that faithful page and had to be within two hours range of the hospital. That meant not going on vacations or attending events more than two-hours away.
On April 7, 1996, on my birthday, I had to be dialysis for the first time. This took place three times a week for four hours each time at Pikeville Medical Center by Dr. Bhagrath. This went on for six months. I only missed two days of work while enduring the process. I refused to let it get me down and continued on with my life playing golf and refereeing football. I was determined to live a normal life.
I was paged three different times with the third being the charm. On September 21, 1996 I had a double transplant; kidney and pancreas. The surgery took 10 hours by Dr. Ranjan and Dr. Wade of University of Kentucky Hospital. I was in ICU for one week and remained in the hospital for another three weeks for a total of a month. My pancreas started working immediately, but it took two weeks for my body to accept the kidney.
After leaving the hospital, I had to stay in close proximity. I rented an apartment for a month while going to the hospital daily to check for rejection and adjust my immune and rejection medications. I will never forget my fight for life.
I can particularly remember this one revisit to the doctor when I asked what my diet will be. He looked at me and smiles and says “no diet of any kind because you are no longer a diabetic”. Wow! After being a diabetic for 30+ years, I finally got to eat sweets J I also asked if I could go back to refereeing and he says “under one condition; You must be an advocate for organ donation and at each ballgame ask that people become a donor”. I was all in!
I do not know who gave me life that day, but I wrote a letter thanking the family and telling them how eternally grateful I am. The social worker made sure the family received the letter. In September of this year, it will make 23 years since receiving the gift of life; the gift of someone’s pancreas and kidney. I thank God each day. If I had one thing to ask of parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, it is to please become an organ donor. I am living proof that angels do exist.
Duanne Thompson – A survivor because of an Organ Donor