July 6, 1975 was my last dialysis treatment of what was a hellish 8 months of undergoing 5-hour per day 3 times a week treatments. My kidneys had failed in November the prior year, landing me in the hospital for the entire month. I remember those days like it was yesterday. I had gone on vacation in October to visit my family in Kentucky before my baby was due as I was only 6 months along. I didn’t get to see them very often because I was so far away, having moved to Florida 2 years earlier. When I got back from vacation, I went from looking like I was 6 months pregnant to what appeared to be a 9-month pregnancy. I felt okay except for what I assumed were normal pregnancy issues – swollen feet, tiredness, etc. I say assumed because it was my first time pregnant. I was scheduled to see my Ob/Gyn when I got back and he was alarmed at the change in size of my belly and told me he wanted to run some tests, so he sent me to the hospital to do so. It would be 30 days before I saw the outside of that hospital due to what was diagnosed as “acute renal failure.” There was no way to know how much time had passed since the kidneys stopped functioning as they labored to filter the blood of me and my unborn baby. Had I not gone for that routine exam, I would not be writing this story now.
On July 7, 1975, I was taken – along with my brother Ken – to the operating room early in the morning. It was going to be a full day of surgery and at that time kidney transplants were still pretty much in their infancy, the first in the US being 1954. My nephrologist, Dr. Metzger, assured me I was in good hands with the surgical team he had gathered. Ken and I were wheeled down the hallway, hand in hand, for what I consider to be the greatest sacrifice one human can make for another – the gift of life.
So today, July 7, 2017, I celebrate 42 years of a successful kidney transplant. Dr. Metzger tells me it is the longest surviving kidney that he has transplanted. For 36 of those years, I have taken no anti-rejection medication. I am currently in a research project at Emory University Transplant Center with Dr. Kenneth Newell and have been for over 10 years, the purpose of which is to determine the factors present in my system and others like myself who are “tolerant” patients that are different from others who need to remain on medication. The more information gathered by this research, the more future transplant patients will benefit from it. It is my way of paying it forward.
For me, having been given an additional 42 years that I would not have had without this gift is a true miracle. It is a bonus that I have not had to endure the side effects of the medication. I honestly give all glory for this miracle to my wonderful Creator who is ever-present in my life. Each day I wake up, I give thanks for another day alive. I ask to be a blessing in the world and to shine my light out through loving and lifting others up. I give gratitude for everyone and everything in my life. I know none of us is guaranteed one more minute than this very NOW that we are living and I will continue to shine my light for as many of those moments as I have left here on earth. If you love someone, tell them. If you are grateful for someone, tell them. Don’t let another minute pass by without letting others know how important they are to you. I love you! Namaste