We all have a story
What you do with yours is entirely up to you
While I fight through depression and the constant fear of death, I have decided to share mine in the hopes of helping and supporting others. It hasn’t been easy. In exchange for keeping me alive, the medicine I take daily produces awful side effects. It’s a no win situation. No matter how healthy I eat or how much I work out, I still have to put these harsh drugs into my body. I’m scared of the long term effects. I wish I was fortunate enough to wake up everyday and not have to think about my health.
His name is John Willinger.
Without him, there would be no story.
I was told in my early 20’s I had PKD (polycystic kidney disease). It was no surprise as my mother was diagnosed with it and was on dialysis in our home since I was a young girl. Not realizing the severity of it, I would help my dad take her blood pressure and sometimes take out her needles when her treatment was over. He had retired early to take care of her and was trained so she had the luxury of dialysis treatments at home. At that young age I thought I would be a dialysis nurse. Little did I know at that young age……..I would actually become a patient. I was told my kidneys would fail around the age of 40. I thought I would be different. I keep myself in decent shape and eat well most of the time. I had 20 years to prove the Doctors wrong. Unfortunately, at 39 years old, the kidneys won. Dialysis became my life….3 times a week at 3 1/2 hours each time. The dialysis machine was restricting me from life. After each treatment I left feeling entirely drained. Being sick all the time was the norm. Multiple surgeries were performed because of blockages in my graft. Though it was keeping me alive, it was taking a piece of me after each treatment.
Then came John Willinger. A former coworker of mine in Florida. He asked for the phone number to the hospital where I was on a waiting list. He went through the process only to find out he wasn’t a perfect blood match. The wind was taken out of my sails. I went back to waiting, knowing my day would come.
In 2008, I moved to Arlington, VA after transferring jobs to Washington, DC. Along with my new location came Georgetown University Hospital. It was among a list of hospitals in the US that did non-matching kidney transplants. John was notified and once again started getting all the necessary tests to see if he could be cleared to donate. We received wonderful news that on December 1, 2009, John Willinger would be donating his kidney to me.
On Thanksgiving in 2009, I was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital. There was quite a process to prep me for accepting John’s non-matching kidney. Throughout this stay was one more unexpected blockage in the graft from a dialysis treatment. Another procedure added to my list of many.
December 1st finally arrived. John has arrived at the hospital, but I was not able to see him to say a mere thank you or good luck. Hours had passed when a nurse came to take me to surgery. At that moment, all I could think was. “My life is about to change.” I woke up many hours later to hear my surgery was over and a success. It’s a feeling that can’t be described. I cannot downplay how difficult the healing process was but it was worth every minute. How on earth can you complain? John Willinger risked his own life for me.
Six months after transplant I suffered from acute rejection and was placed back into the hospital. They said it could be reversed and it was. Shortly thereafter I started noticing spots on my body. I decided to see a dermatologist based on all my rejection medicine. This is when I was diagnosed with Basel Cell Carcinoma and T-cell Lymphoma. It was and continues to be a big part of my struggle today. I was later diagnosed with melanoma in May 2013.
So, as I write this today, I think most would agree I have my share of health issues. I’m fighting depression and most importantly staying alive.
Thank you – Linda