New kidney recipients reflect on their freedom

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 21, 2011

EAST SPENCER — Annie Cline can’t describe how much she’s looking forward to this Thanksgiving.
Two years ago at this time, she was recovering from a heart attack.
A year ago, she had just received a new kidney.
Her son Jermaine kiddingly asked what trick she had up her sleeve this year to get out of making some of her favorite dishes for the holiday.
But if everything goes as planned, she’ll be making her dressing, candied yams and sweet potato pie for Thursday’s big meal.
“I just feel like I want to celebrate life,” says the 61-year-old Cline, who goes by the nickname “Peepcie.” “It’s the grace of God who has kept me here.”
On another end of Rowan County, David Zalinsky also is thankful for a life that’s completely different this year because of a kidney he received Sept. 12. Before his transplant, disease had taken both of his kidneys and tethered him for almost three years to a dialysis machine.
“It’s just a blessing,” says Zalinsky, 46. “I can eat what I want, drink what I want … I can’t even express how thankful I am.”
As with most of the amazing things our bodies do, we take our kidneys for granted. About the size of a good fist, kidneys are bean-shaped and highly sophisticated reprocessing machines, according to the National Kidney and Urological Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
You can find the kidneys — most of us have two — near the middle of the back, below the rib cage, with one on each side of the spine.
The clearinghouse says a person’s kidneys process some 200 quarts of blood daily, sifting out about 2 quarts of waste products and extra water.
The wastes and extra water become urine, which flows to the bladder through tubes called ureters, according to the clearinghouse.
For three years, kidney disease had forced Cline to rely on nightly peritoneal dialysis. A fluid called dialysis solution was put into the abdomen to capture waste products from the blood, and Cline’s machine drained and refilled the abdomen while she slept.
Cline says she was at her lowest in October 2010. She already was on a list for a new kidney, and twice during the months leading to October, it didn’t work out.
The first time, testing determined she wasn’t a good match for a kidney that was available. The second time, she had an infection preventing her from taking the available donor organ.
On Oct. 5, 2010, her best friend, Althea Witherspoon, died. It left her quite depressed, and “I was about to give up,” she says.
A young grandson, 6-year-old Jaden, saw the sadness in Cline and asked whether he could pray for her to receive a new kidney. She told him, of course, and it made her hopeful again.
“He believed I was going to get that kidney, and I believed, too,” Cline says.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem called her Oct. 22 and said it had the perfect kidney for her. Cline received it the next day during a nine-hour surgery, and she sailed through a recovery.
Her physician told her to expect to be in intensive care for two weeks. She was only there for two days. The doctors warned she could be in the hospital for two months. She was home in three weeks.
Cline says her husband of 44 years, James, stayed with her throughout the recovery.
“He never left me,” she says. “He had a little bag packed (for the hospital), just like I did.”
Cline also has been thankful for all the support from her sisters at the Northside Church of the God of Prophecy, the pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church in Spencer and former classmate, the Rev. Arthur Heggins of St. Luke’s Baptist Church.
Today, she’s taking her medications designed to keep her from rejecting the organ and feeling 100 percent better. Her donor, she learned, was a 57-year-old woman, a deputy sheriff from Iowa who had died from an aneurysm.
Cline has become a walking public service announcement for the importance of becoming organ donors.
“If you can donate, please donate,” she says.
Zalinsky lost his second kidney just before Christmas last year and went toward the top of the list for needing a kidney transplant.
He was attached to a machine in his living room, receiving hemodialysis for at least four hours a day. The only good thing was it gave him time to knit — a longtime hobby.
Zalinsky received his kidney on a Monday. When he made the first telephone call from his hospital bed the next afternoon, he called the rental company for the dialysis machine and told it to take away that dadgum piece of equipment.
“They couldn’t get it out of here quick enough for me,” he says.
Having a kidney was like throwing on a light switch, Zalinsky says. He hadn’t been able to drink a Coca-Cola in three years because of its phosphoric acid content.
“It was fair game again,” he says.
Speaking of game, Zalinsky went deer hunting this fall for the first time in six or seven years. “I didn’t see anything,” he says, “but it didn’t stop me from enjoying being out in the woods.”
Doctors have told him the first six months with his new kidney are the critical ones. They have tinkered a little bit with his medications, but “no bumps in the road yet,” Zalinsky says.
Not being tied to the dialysis machine has been liberating, to say the least. Before the transplant, Zalinsky had been used to restricting himself to about a half-liter of liquids a day. Now doctors fuss at him for not drinking enough — up to 21/2 liters daily.
He still has to visit doctors twice a week, gunning for the day when he only has to make once-a-month trips.
Everybody has told him his color has returned, thanks to the new kidney.
“I didn’t realize that I was pale,” he laughs.
His kidney came from a 31-year-old organ donor.
Zalinsky, 46, wants to work again. In preparation, he already has enrolled for online classes through Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. He formerly worked at Food Lion’s corporate officers and, until an injury to his ankle, as a officer at Piedmont Correctional Center.
Last year at Thanksgiving, Zalinsky had to go through three hours of dialysis before going to his in-laws for dinner. Then he had to watch what he ate and drank.
This year will be different, Zalinsky promises.
Pass him the turkey and gravy.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@