Wanted: Someone to donate a kidney
By Katie Scarvey
Lisa Thomas’ ad on the Salisbury Post Web site has attracted a lot of attention.
Of course it’s not every day you see an ad seeking a kidney donor.
Lisa’s family, including her parents, Marie and Lee Wade of Salisbury, have faced many challenges presented by Lisa’s kidney disease over the years. They’ve learned that you have to be proactive when it comes to finding a kidney donor.
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Lisa, 47, is in end-stage renal disease, which is as dire as it sounds. Kidneys lose their filtering ability, and without dialysis, dangerous levels of fluid and waste accumulate in the body.
For the past year, Lisa has undergone hemodialysis three times a week, for 5-6 hours at a time. It’s exhausting and hard on her physically, stressing her heart and other organs. Afterward, she crawls into bed, feeling nauseous. She’s no longer steady on her feet.
“You can’t stay on dialysis for the rest of your life,” says Lisa, who lives in Spruce Pine.
Lisa was 8 when her health troubles began. She was diagnosed with glomerular nephritis, most likely the result of a strep infection, since kidney disease does not run in her family. There is no cure.
Doctors told her parents that the disease was progressive and that it was only a matter of time before she would need a kidney transplant.
Marie rejected the notion that Lisa’s disease would continue to worsen and did everything in her power to see that it didn’t. Lisa beat the odds, faring remarkably well for many years.
“I attribute that to my mother,” Lisa says, her eyes tearing up. “She took very good care of me.”
Marie researched her daughter’s condition and as a result focused on providing a healthy diet and vitamin regimen for her daughter.
Unfortunately, Lisa’s healthy food habits veered off into an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, when she was about 12.
Although little was known about treating eating disorders back in the 1970s, Lee and Marie managed to find their daughter help in a treatment center.
And oddly enough, the disease may actually have helped her in one sense. Although she went back to fairly normal eating habits, Lisa still refuses to eat sweets. And that has been a boon for her health, since sugar should be avoided by those who suffer with kidney disease.
Lisa maintained her health for many years. She graduated from East Rowan High School in 1980, got married and gave birth to two children, Elizabeth and Matthew.
Around the age of 40, she began having problems. She felt tired, run-down, not herself. Finally, she went to see a doctor.
“I’ll never forget that day,” she said.
Her daughter Elizabeth remembers too, because she was then pregnant with Lisa’s first grandchild.
Lisa was told that she was in end-stage renal failure.
“I just about hit the floor,” she says. “All those years ó I never thought about kidney failure.”
The rug was pulled from underneath her whole family that day, Lisa’s sister Angela Melton says.
Lisa started peritoneal dialysis at home.
Then came the search for a kidney donor, who needed to match Lisa’s blood type ó O. Although Angela was a possibility, she turned out not to be a good match, so Lisa had to look outside her family.
One of Lisa’s friends from church, Brenda Smith, came forward and was deemed to be an acceptable match.
Although Brenda had never had any surgeries and had confided to Lisa that she “freaked out” even when giving blood, she was a trouper and “such a precious person,” Lisa says.
Brenda would talk to her kidney before the surgery, Lisa says, even giving it a name ó “Wilson” ó from the volleyball Tom Hanks’ character befriends in the movie “Cast Away.”
“I’m talkin’ to Wilson,” she’d tell Lisa. “He’s gonna work for you.”
Lisa felt better immediately after getting her new kidney in January of 2003.
Life went on normally after that, until Lisa came down with the flu around Thanksgiving of 2006.
Illness can be particularly dangerous for those with kidney transplants. When the body battles illness, it produces antibodies, which can attack anything foreign in a body ó like a donated kidney.
After weeks in the hospital fighting to keep her kidney, Lisa had to have it removed.
She was devastated. Not just for herself, but for Brenda, since it was Brenda’s kidney she was losing.
“It just killed me,” Lisa said, her voice quavering as she fought back tears. “I sort of felt like I failed her.”
She finally found peace with that situation, she said, realizing that Brenda knew of the possibility that her body might reject the kidney.
Dialysis began again.
And now, once again, Lisa desperately needs a kidney. She’s determined to survive for her family, including her two grandchildren, Ty and Reagan.
Lisa has been told that in her condition, a kidney from a living donor is preferable to a cadaver kidney, since the odds of finding a good match are higher with a living donor.
The family has been very proactive in trying to find a donor. They’ve gotten the word out through churches and even Craig’s List ó and the Salisbury Post Web site.
Marie Wade knows Post advertising representative Audrey Eudy well, since the Wades advertise their business frequently in the Post. It was Audrey’s idea, Marie says, that they place an ad on the Post Web site seeking a kidney donor for Lisa.
The family has been thrilled and humbled by the response so far. They’ve received dozens of phone calls and e-mails from people who want to learn more about the process.
Lisa’s son, Matt Thomas, who works with Lee and Marie at their Beltone Hearing Aid Center in Salisbury, handles most of the communication.
“The doctors told us that the numbers were stacked against us,” Matt says. “We’re just trying to stack them the other way.”
He wants to let people know that donating doesn’t need to cost them anything. His mother’s insurance will cover most of the donor’s cost, he says. And the family will reimburse the donor for any lost wages incurred during recovery.
“It’s amazing to me,” Marie says. “You hear so much bad in the world. But we’ve seen the good in people. I want people to know how much we appreciate everyone who has already called.”
“I want people to know how good everyone has been,” she said. “There are some wonderful people out there.
“My heart … I can’t even tell you where I’m at now. It makes my heart smile that there are so many people who have tried to help me.”
And Lisa loves them for trying. Knowing that there are people out there who are willing to donate ó even if they can’t, for same reason ó helps keep her going.
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Lisa and her family will be at the Earth Night Out Friday, April 17, in downtown Salisbury. If you’re interested in learning more about donating a kidney, they’ll be at a table in front of the Stitchin’ Post to answer questions.
Matt would like potential donors to know that there is a way for those who are not blood type O to donate through the paired donor program. He can explain the details to anyone who’s interested.
To see the ad that appeared on the Post Web site, go to http://www.salisburypost.com/multimedia/production/beltone/lisa-thomas.html.
For information about donating, call Matt Thomas at 704-223-0345 or Lee and Marie Wade at 704-640-8641.
If you’d like to contribute to Lisa Thomas’ transplant fund, there is an account set up for that purpose at the main Wachovia Bank branch in Spruce Pine. The address is 89 Oak Ave, Spruce Pine, NC 28777.
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