I have had Type 1 diabetes since my early teen years. It was always pretty hard to control my blood sugars for reasons that were not quite clear, despite careful monitoring. My blood glucose levels were very hard to predict, even if I ate and did the exact same thing days in a row. As a result, I started to develop some complications in my twenties due to the up and down trends of my blood glucose levels. Despite switching to more insulin shots a day, then to an insulin pump, careful blood sugar monitoring and carbohydrate counting, I was still not always in the optimal range of blood glucose levels. You learn to always carry sugar with you in case of “lows” and expect to have some not so great feeling days when you have “highs”. None of that compared to when I was diagnosed with kidney disease. We had hoped to avoid dialysis and started the testing process for a live donor. Both of my sisters and my mother volunteered selflessly to be tested without even being asked. I had support from friends and even people I didn’t know that said they would be tested if my family were not matches. I was so honoured considering the wait for kidneys on the donor list can be very long.
My kidneys ended up failing faster than expected despite diet changes, fluid intake restrictions and medication modifications. I had to start dialysis. In the months leading up to that I was constantly tired, sick, had severe joint and muscle pain, had very swollen and painful legs from the kidneys not being able to remove the fluid properly. I did not do well on dialysis. I had started a home dialysis program of 4 times a day treatments through a line inserted in my belly. It ended up not working well enough for me and I was deemed too sick for a transplant and started hemodialysis at the hospital. I had horrible headaches and my blood pressure would hit the floor during the 4-5 hour sessions, 3 times a week. Luckily after 9 months, we found out that my youngest sister, Elise, was about as perfect a match as there could be. We had to wait for a surgery date so that she could have the less invasive laproscopic surgery. There were many days in there when I spent most of the day in the bathroom, wondering if I was going to make it to that date. I forgot what is was to wake up and even feel decent, let alone feel good.
After the transplant surgery, it was amazing; the kidney started working immediately in the operating room and despite some rough days for both myself and my sister in the hospital, everything went really well. I had to learn how to actually take in more fluids because the kidney was essentially working too well and my blood pressure was running a little low. During the recovery period it took a while to regain energy, especially since I had lost most of my muscle mass being on dialysis. Once the energy started to come back, I started to realize that I was feeling good and my husband and I were out walking our dog daily and were really enjoying it. My sister has fully recovered and is in excellent health as her remaining kidney picks up all the work of the donated one. After a few months, everything was great and I was asked if I was interested in being listed on the donor list for a pancreas. I would not have diabetes anymore and would be insulin free and not have to test my blood sugars. The best part is that I would be able to protect my sister’s donated kidney and help reduce any further complications and maybe even reverse some of the damage caused by the diabetes. I was listed 8 months after the kidney transplant and by miracle only waited on the list for 22 days (not even close to the norm). My donor pancreas turned out to be perfect for me and I am now insulin free and it is amazing. The surgery was tough. The pancreas is known to be a bit of a “diva” and can be hard to match, so I am so grateful that my donor family made the decision to save others despite their grief. I did have a few bumps in the road to recovery but the benefits far outweigh those tough times!
After the kidney transplant, I could walk up stairs without a struggle, walk multiple kilometres, get back to my love of swimming (you can’t swim with the lines used in dialysis), and even participate in things as simple as family dinners, when I used to feel too sick or tired to do so. Four months post kidney transplant I actually water-skied again after a few years of not having the ability to do so physically. My husband has the wife back that he married and through it all he has been a very strong and caring supporter. It has not been easy on either of us, but through the tough times we have grown closer and look forward to our 30s, 40s, 50s+++ together. I’m still in my first year of post (2) transplants and I’m excited to live my life to the fullest from this day on. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to not take your health for granted. I do not stress the small things and strive to live a positive life and will spend my time teaching that positive outlook to my students and to promote the benefits of organ and tissue donation that can help save and enrich so many people’s lives. I thank my sister and my donor and his family everyday for the gift of LIFE.