Source: The Post and Courier, November 10, 2009, by David Quick
It can feel like life on death row, except without having committed a heinous crime.
Just ask Sharon Kearns.
Years ago, she was diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis, a slowly progressive disease of the bile ducts in the liver. The disease, which contributed to her father's death at age 55, hadn't really affected her until the second half of 2007. She went from walking the beach and enjoying life in the summer to being severely sick with jaundice, muscle wasting and weight loss and feeling a constant chill by the end of the year.
"It was a snowball that turned into an avalanche in just a few months," says Kearns, director of testing at Trident Technical College. "I had every symptom of liver failure. It even affected my thinking. My head felt like it was full of cotton. ... I remember telling my friends that I'm OK with the exception that I am dying."
She worried about missing her daughter's graduation from Clemson. And her son's wedding.
Because of the dire nature of her condition, which included a golf-ball-size, cancerous lesion on her liver, she was rushed to near the top of a list for a liver and got a transplant on March 8, 2008. Ironically, cancer may have saved her life. Her shriveled liver was removed and replaced with a healthy one. Since then, she made it to the graduation and the wedding.
"You don't want to be as sick as I was," says
Kearns. "I truly believe that if I didn't get that call (for an organ) when I did, I would have been dead in two weeks. ... I am lucky to be alive."
Today, at 52, Kearns says every day is a joy.
"The things I worried about in the past are nothing now. ... You look at everything differently."
Talk to most any organ transplant recipient, such as Kearns, and they'll have a story that will bring most people to tears and perhaps inspire those who haven't signed up to be on the organ and tissue donor registry to do so. You or a family member or a friend may be the person who can help someone in dire need.
Mark Johnson, media relations coordinator for LifePoint, the federally designated Organ Procurement Organization for all but two counties in South Carolina, says that people who have a heart on their driver's license may think they are on the organ and tissue donor registry but are not.
Prior to December 2008, there was no registry.
Now, individuals who wish to become organ and tissue donors can register their consent online at www.Every11Minutes.org or by visiting the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles and saying yes to organ/tissue donation.
A new logo, a heart with a circle around it, indicates a donor.
Two S.C. initiatives
The opportunity to sign up comes this month with two initiatives taking place in the Palmetto State.
The first Donate Life Duel gives fans of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and Clemson University Tigers the opportunity to show their school spirit while saving lives. This is a friendly competition between supporters of both schools to help their "teams" win by signing up more organ/tissue donors on the new South Carolina Organ and Tissue Donor Registry at www.Every11Minutes.org.
The Donate Life Duel will continue until Nov. 23. The winner will be announced and a trophy awarded at the Carolina-Clemson football game Nov. 28.
While that effort will take place in the house of competition, the other will be in the houses of worship.
This month, many congregations across South Carolina will unite in honor of Donor Sabbath at various times during November. This is an interfaith celebration of life that reminds congregations of their faiths' support of the life-saving benefits of organ and life-improving benefits of tissue donation.
Kidneys to corneas
In South Carolina, 90 percent of the people on the transplant waiting list are in need of a kidney, just as Ruby Middleton was eight years ago.
At 19, when Ruby Middleton's friends were enjoying the freedom and fun of college, she dealt with failing kidneys, the result of lupus, and dialysis and began the wait for a kidney transplant.
"It was a long, hard time waiting," recalls the Moncks Corner resident, now 27. "It's a tedious process. You're sitting there waiting for a transplant and trying to have a normal life. ... At times, it was really depressing because you are sick. As soon as you're in the chair (for dialysis) and they stick needles in your arm, you can be there for four or five hours."
Middleton adds, "I had to grow up really fast."
She got her first kidney transplant in September 2006, but it didn't take. Luckily, Middleton, who has a rarer blood type, had another one ready a month later. That one worked, and she hasn't had any more issues with lupus, so far.
Despite the setbacks and delays, Middleton is finishing up work on a bachelor's degree in sociology at Charleston Southern University and aspires to help others who are facing the same challenges she did.
Not all transplants are life-or-death.
Mary Blau, a 51-year-old Goose Creek woman, can attest to her need for a cornea nearly 16 years ago.
Afflicted with a keratoconus, she was on the verge of losing her driver's license due to impaired vision. She faced not being able to get to work or do her favorite hobby, making crafts.
She went through a painful transplant process but has led a normal life, including doting on her pet rabbit.
"I'm a lucky girl," says Blau. "All I have to do is to put in one eye drop every night. Otherwise, I do what I want to do."