Who Says Dreams Don't Come True?
In 1974, at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Both of my grandmothers had diabetes, so the odds of me getting it were pretty good. My mom noticed that I was drinking a lot and losing weight. She took me to the doctor, and a blood test confirmed her suspicions. I was in the hospital for three weeks until they were able to regulate my blood sugar. I learned how to give myself insulin injections and had to do so twice a day. Watching my diet and taking insulin just became a part of life.
About 10 years after first being diagnosed, I was at a routine eye doctor appointment. He noticed that I had some bleeding from the blood vessels in the back of my eye and proceeded to refer me to a specialist. The specialist told me that I had diabetic retinopathy. He performed laser surgery to seal the blood vessels to keep them from leaking. Over the next few years I had several more laser treatments in both eyes.
In November of 1986 I began to experience swelling in my legs and feet. My family doctor said that my blood pressure was high. He referred me to a nephrologist (kidney doctor). The nephrologist told me that I had kidney disease and that for now it was a watch-and-wait situation. In September of 1991, My kidney function decreased to the point that it was necessary for me to start on dialysis. I chose peritoneal dialysis instead of hemodialysis. I worked full time and thought that being able to do my dialysis at home would best accommodate my schedule. I used a machine called a cycler, which did my dialysis treatment during the night while I slept. This worked pretty well for me. The hardest part was since I was working full-time, it was necessary for me to start my treatment around 7:30 or 8:00 in order to get the full treatment completed before I had to get up for work. Weekends were a little better because I could sleep in later in the morning, and therefore stay up later the night before. I am very fortunate to have the most wonderful husband in the world. Jack helped me to get set up for my dialysis treatments. In situations like that, it is not only the person who is ill who has to sacrifice, but it affects family as well.
My Nephrologist thought that I would be a good candidate for a transplant, so he referred me to Hershey Medical Center. I began going through the barrage of tests to determine if I could be a transplant recipient. Finally, on April 1, 1992, I was officially placed on the waiting list. Then the waiting began. It was kind of ironic, but a guy that my husband worked with had been diabetic since he was very young and had gone through all of the same helath problems that I had. Jim had also been on dialysis and had a kidney/pancreas transplant. He was a great source of information and support for me. Doctors and nurses can tell you what to expect, but it was so helpful for me to hear the "real" story from someone who had been through the same thing.
Time passed. And finally the call came. I had just gotten back from lunch on January 13,1993 when I received a call from Hershey Medical Center. I was kind of confused why they would be calling me. It didn't even dawn on me that this was THE call. Stephanie, the transplant coordinator, told me that they had a kidney and pancreas and wanted me to come in. I guess I was in shock because I remember asking her, "Well, when would you like me to come in?" She said, "as soon as you can get here." So, I called my husband at work to come pick me up. We must have set a land-speed record getting home, packing the suitcase, and getting to Hershey. When I got there, they took a gallon (at least it seemed like it!) of blood to run some final tests. I had one final dialysis treatment. Finally at around 10:00 that night, the doctor told me that I would be having my surgery in the morning. The nurse helped me to prepare for the next day. She told me that I could go as far as getting to the operating room, and that if the organs were damaged when they arrived, the surgery might be scrubbed.
It may sound weird, but I slept really well that night. I remember the nurse coming in the next morning to wake me up. I remember being wheeled to the operating room. I can even remember climbing onto the operating table and someone saying that the doctor was on the other side of the room with my new organs. My transplant surgeon is Dr. Harold Yang. Coincidentally, he also performed Jim's transplant. That's the last thing I remember before my surgery. My surgery lasted about 10 hours. My husband and parents came to see me that evening. They said I opened my eyes, but I don't remember that. I do remember waking up the next day (and having that horrible breathing tube). Luckily, they soon removed that and I began my road to recovery.
Following my surgery, I was experiencing pain in my left arm. After a bunch of tests, doctors determined that I a had a pseudoaneurism in my shoulder area. This was the result of a doctor at another hospital trying to put in a central line for hemodialysis. So, a week after my transplant, I had another surgery to remove that. After that, I was back on the road to recovery. It was such a weird feeling to be able to drink all the fluids I wanted. Before my transplant, watching my fluid intake was very difficult for me. Now they were actually telling me to drink more! I also got to choose my meals from the regular menu. Before, I always had food for a renal diet (boring!). Two-and-a-half weeks after my transplant, I got to go home! I spent a month at home before I went back to work. I was very fortunate because my employer allowed me to be as flexible as I needed. I had used up a lot of my sick time before my transplant, so I thought I would just have to take time off without pay. Our president arranged it so that staff could donate sick days for me to use while I was off work. I started back to work part-time for the first week. After that, I went back full-time and have been doing so ever since. On January 14, 1998 I will celebrate the five-year anniversary of my transplant. And, believe me, January 14 is like a national holiday at our house!
But, my story doesn't end there. I was very surprised to learn, after my transplant, that some recipients go on to have babies. Before my transplant, a pregnancy would have been impossible due to all of my health problems. My transplant coordinator told me that they like you to wait at least two years (to make sure everything is functioning properly and medications are regulated) before trying to become pregnant. My husband and I met with one of the high risk OB/GYNs at Hershey to gather information before deciding if we wanted to try to have a baby. Dr. Yang, my transplant surgeon, was very supportive. We decided to go for it!
And on August 18, 1996 our daughter, Gretchen, was born. My pregnancy was pretty uneventful up until the last month. My blood pressure began to rise, and it was necessary to deliver her a month early. The doctor did an amniocentesis to determine the baby's lung maturity, and it was okay, so they delivered her by C-section. Gretchen was perfectly healthy and weighed in at 5 pounds 11 ounces and was 17 1/2 inches long... She was able to go to the regular newborn nursery right away. Five days after she was born, we all went home from the hospital. And, life just keeps on getting better and better each day.
I am so thankful for my transplant and what it has meant for my second chance at life. And, seeing my beautiful daughter every day is a reminder of how another person's generous decision can impact on the life of someone they don't know.