In 2008, I knew something was wrong. I could only hold down about half of what I ate. I managed to survive on ice chips and water. I felt sick and tired all the time.
One day, I couldn’t even hold down water. I panicked and called my husband. He left work to take me to the ER, where they did all kinds of tests.
Finally, they sent in an older doctor, a kidney specialist, to talk to me. He told me that I had the second highest creatinine level he’d ever seen. Then he said I needed a kidney transplant, although in the meantime, I would have to start dialysis.
My emotions bolted all over the place, but I finally focused on the immediate choice he gave me: between coming to the medical facility three times a week for dialysis or doing home dialysis. Unwilling to focus on the big picture because it scared me too much, my brain distracted me with the details of where I wanted tubes hanging out of my body. Did I want one from the right side of my chest or two from my lower left abdomen? I really didn’t want either. The very thought creeped me out.
I started going to the medical facility because I figured one tube was better than two. A friend took me, drove back home with my girls to watch them then came back to pick me up. She kept telling me that I looked white as a ghost when I came out, and I did feel drained. I finally accepted that with two small children, home dialysis might offer a better choice.
Then I had a stroke. It took me off the active waiting list. I had trouble moving my left side, it slowed my speech, and I couldn’t walk. I spent a week in the hospital at UK, waiting for a bed at Cardinal Hill. I couldn’t get one. Finally, they sent me home and physical, occupational, and speech therapists came to my house multiple times a week.
My stroke happened in September, and I set a goal to walk unassisted with my girls on Halloween for Trick or Treat.
No one believed I could do it.
I worked with the therapists, all three of them. I continued my dialysis. I fully intended to meet my goal. I would do anything for my girls. And I did. On Halloween, I walked with them through my father’s neighborhood. My husband had to pull me up the hill at the end, but I walked on my own.
Almost exactly a year later, I had a second stroke. I worried that I might never get back on the active transplant waiting list, but then I went a year with no problems. And then another. I finally made it back to the active waiting list.
All the while, my family had been looking for a kidney for me. My father wanted to donate, but his kidney had the same problems mine did. My husband checked to see if he matched. He didn’t. Even a neighbor that I really didn’t know heard about my situation and checked to see if she matched. No one did. It had to be a stranger for me, and I made my way up the waiting list.
I got my first call to come to the hospital. I wasn’t first in line, but if something happened and they couldn’t reach that person or that person couldn’t get to the hospital in time for some reason, I would get the kidney. My father and his wife waited with my husband and me. The first recipient arrived. I left without a kidney, but I felt happy for him and his family.
The next call was mine. They couldn’t reach me, so they left a message on my phone and called my husband. I got the message and was a little freaked out that I couldn’t contact them, when my husband came home. He calmed me down and said everything was all right. He’d talked to them.
A neighbor came to watch the kids, and we called my father. Then we headed to UK.
I had my transplant the next day. My family, all but my father and his wife, had travelled out of town for my oldest nephew’s military training graduation. My father waited to hear that I came through the surgery okay, then left for the graduation.
I spent two weeks in the hospital, just my husband and me. I also had to have my parathyroid removed. I felt exhausted, which was the primary symptom of my recovery.
Luckily, I didn’t have complications with my kidney transplant, but I did have to face one more blow – after my transplant in April, my husband left in June.
I had to leave our home, sell my car, and felt blown away when I should have been enjoying my recovery with no dialysis, finally able to play with my girls again after four years.
My father and stepmother supported me though, as I moved in to an apartment and struggled to get back on my feet. Eventually, I hit rock bottom when my ex-husband won custody of our girls in our divorce. I’d made it from one crisis to the next for them, and now they were gone.
I’m also the sort of person who refuses to lie down and let something get a hold of me. I just refuse to give up. I had plenty of time to think, and I thought about my girls. I also thought about my mom.
Mom, when she died, I think she just gave up. She found out there was nothing more to do to treat her cancer on a Thursday, and she died the next Saturday. I couldn’t do that to my girls. I had a new kidney. I had a new life. I had another chance.
Mom told me, just before she died, that she planned to be buried with everything she brought with her into this world. She wasn’t going to donate any organs. I thought about that when all of this happened to me. It changes how you feel. I know a lot of families believe that way. I did, then. But then I needed a kidney. It was like I was walking in someone else’s shoes.
You never know until it happens to you. I think that’s how a lot of people are. I was thankful that I was able to get an organ. That someone was willing to donate. Some stranger who didn’t even know me. There’s a lot of people out there who need organs. If I hadn’t had a transplant, I wouldn’t get to see my girls grow older. My girls make me strong. I made it from one crisis to the next for them, one day at a time for a long time. I’ve gone back to college. I started in nursing, but I switched, and now I want to get into the X-ray tech program. I bought a car. I bought a house. My girls are proud of me. I truly have a whole new life because someone cared enough to say “Yes” and join the Organ Donor Registry.