I was just 10 years old when life for me and my family was turned upside down. I knew my Dad’s kidneys weren’t working right and we needed to learn more about it, so my parents and I went to an all-day education session on St. Patrick’s Day, 2006. We talked about so much that day – hemodialysis, dialysis diets, peritoneal, transplants, surgeries. My 10-year-old mind was exploding with new information. Once the day was over, my dad’s nephrologist told my dad, “You are having surgery on Monday to create a fistula and place a central line, and you will begin dialysis on Tuesday.”
That was it. We only had the weekend to prepare, and my mother went into full nurse mode preparing for what was to come. And I grew up, just like that.
That started a journey that would take us through three major surgeries, multiple hospitalization, two near-death experiences, and at least two mental breakdowns (on my part). After the first year, we had settled into our routine. Dad would go to dialysis Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I would go to school, come home and help dad. If it was a dialysis day, he was usually too exhausted to do much, so I would do all I could to help around the house.
I spent the first two years learning everything I could about kidney disease, dialysis, my family’s history and my dad’s complications. I could explain exactly how the dialysis machine worked, the pathophysiology of the kidneys and the proper care of a dialysis patient. I was becoming a nurse without even knowing it.
There were bumps in the road, but we had adjusted well to our new normal. Then, in 2010, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer that had spread to the lymph node and would require a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Sounds bad, right? But there was a miracle hidden in the middle.
My parents were well known by the surgeons at this point, with my parents having over half a dozen surgeries between them and my dad on the list for a kidney transplant. After one appointment for my mom, a surgical nurse, Vicki, followed us out and asked a few simple questions of my dad, including his blood type. He thought nothing of it.
A few weeks later, we got a phone call from Vicki, asking permission to be tested to give my dad her kidney. We were stunned. My dad’s first question was, “Why me?” And her answer was simple: “Why not you?” She said she had watched my family for years, our struggles, our faith, our love for one another, and she admired how through it all, we kept our outlook positive. She had become inspired about living donation after learning about it on a medical talk show. She started a healthier lifestyle, lost weight and was just waiting until she found someone, like my dad, to donate to.
We didn’t get our hopes up. Lots of people had offered to be tested in the past, but they were never a match. So, when Vicki walked into the dialysis clinic on a Saturday while my dad was having his treatment, he was surprised. He called home and shared the good news: Vicki was a match and he was getting a kidney. I broke into sobs and this incredible sense of relief washed over me. I fell to my knees, unable to hold myself up. It was like I didn’t realize the tension I had been holding until it was gone. It was finally over, we were finally free. I had no idea how much of my parent’s illnesses I had taken on myself until the end was in sight.
It’s been over 10 years. I’ve graduated high school, gone on to graduate top of my class from Montana State University College of Nursing. I’ve started my career and gotten married. But every day, something always brings me back to that time. That time of uncertainty, fear, hope and miracles. My experience has shaped me into the person I am today and the nurse I have become. For that, I will be forever grateful.
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