15 years ago today my mom gave me life for the second time when she offered me one of her kidneys. Last year in my post “Celebrating Over 20 Years with Lupus and Kidney Transplant” and I gave a high level walk-through of my life from my Lupus diagnosis to transplant. This year I wanted to focus on the reason why I’m still able to tell this story with a smile and style – because my mother did what many other mother’s do for their children, sacrifice. In essence, my mother has given me life three times. Once during birth, of course, the second with her kidney donation, and third, my daughter; because of my mother’s kidney I was able to bring my daughter into this world and my grandmother got a chance to see her only great-grand before she passed away. Pretty awesome.
My mother was 47 years old when she donated her kidney to me. She’d recently had a late-life baby and as a result developed a hyper thyroid, so no one thought she’d be a potential for organ donation. But as God would have it, when she went to get tested (after the other family members were not a close enough match) she was medically cleared of her thyroid disorder and declared a match. She wasn’t a perfect match, but a really good match. My mom went through extensive testing; some say a transplant is more strenuous on the donor than it is for the recipient. But going through this was the finish line for her. She’d been donating all she had to me before I was even diagnosed with Lupus.
No one knew what was wrong with me back then. My mom had me at the best doctors in New York trying to figure out why my joints were swelling and at times I couldn’t get my legs to move so I could walk. No one ever mentioned Lupus until the end of my week-long stay at Westchester Medical Center in White Plains, NY. “You have Lupus” the doctor said to me at 15 years of age. I immediately thought, I’m going to die, just like Debbie did. Debbie was one of my mom’s good friends and our Pastor’s daughter. I’d known her all my life but just a few years before my ordeal she passed away…from Lupus. I remembered how sick she was; I remembered her beautiful smile but also the smell of sickness that she carried towards the end. She was young, strong, and pretty. But she was sick with something called Lupus, and she died. And that was the extent of my knowledge on the subject. So as a ballet dancer and track runner, “Lupus” wasn’t exactly on my agenda as a High School sophomore. So I cried.
I went back to school to taunts and badgering questions of adolescence concern and curiosity – “I heard you have cancer. I heard you have AIDS. I heard you’re going to die. Are you going to die?” After missing a week or more out of school questions are bound to fly. Plus I’d missed many days prior to my diagnosis for being sick. But at the time, I had an awesome support system; my HS sweetheart and his family, friends, my family, and of course my mom. I was on heavy doses of medicine, Prednizone in particular which blew my face up to the size of a blow-fish. But I kept going. My mom did all she could to help me battle this as a teenager who was obviously very into looks and fashion of course. She took the salt out of my diet to aid with my facial puffiness and weigh gain. But…my diet change meant the whole family’s diet changed and no one was happy about that, including myself. But to this day I still order fries with no salt.
What it takes to be a mom is something special. I don’t know where she got the time or energy to care for a sick kid while taking care of my two younger brothers, then having another child and subsequently having me get even sicker. My little sister was only 4 when I went on dialysis, my youngest brother was 12 and the other 16. She had fundraisers for my medical bills, drove me back and forth to the doctor and to dialysis, to school, and conjured up people around the nation to pray for me. She even let me cuss the doctor out in her presence when she put a dialysis catheter port (wrongly) in my neck. What she did not do was let me miss school days while at NC State University. Nor did she let me or anyone else call me or treat me like I was “sick.”
She wrote out a prayer for me to pray that I recently found:
She was adamant about keeping me alive. And 21 years after my diagnosis and 15 years after my transplant, I’m alive and kicking.
I’m grateful to be alive. And I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be a mother. Without my mother’s kidney, I wouldn’t be able to say either of those things. It hasn’t been easy though – I’ve been a single mom since I found out I was pregnant and I have enough life stories to write a book (which could be in the works). During my pregnancy I had 6 doctors while working full-time. I spent three weeks in the hospital on bed-rest and had to deliver a month early. My daughter was born 4 lbs. 10 oz. but was able to go home. She was nicknamed “Peanut” in the nursery because she was the smallest thing in there. I didn’t know how to care for a preemie or be a single mom, but God kept me as He continues to do – ten years after giving birth and 15 years post-transplant.
One day my daughter will know and fully appreciate my story and be able to blog, write, or tell about the fact that she’s a miracle baby. She has a purpose in life. And we owe it all to God and to my mother, who gave me life three times.