One day, Melissa Layton wasn't feeling very well. The next, doctors told her she needed an organ transplant.
"They said a few more hours and it would have been too late," recalls Layton, who underwent two transplants after suffering a near-fatal condition known as volvulus where the small intestine twists and dies.
"I get tired easier than most people my age would," says the 29-year-old Taylors woman. "But it could be worse."
Indeed. This month Layton is participating in the U.S. Transplant Games, hosted by the National Kidney Foundation to raise awareness about transplantation.
Her events are singles and mixed doubles bowling, softball throw and 5K walk. No small feat for someone who had most of her abdominal organs replaced less than two years ago.
Layton, a fourth-grade teacher at Paris Elementary School, began having nausea and pain one day in 2005. It got so bad her husband of three months, Preston, took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a kidney infection and sent home with medication.
Hours later, she was back in the hospital after collapsing at home. This time, she says, surgeons had to remove her small intestine to save her life.
"The whole small intestine was gone and an inch or two of large intestine," she says. "And I went into complete renal failure."
Layton was hospitalized for three months, then in March, traveled to Indiana to await a transplant. She got the call on May 18.
"It seemed like an eternity," she recalls. "But a lot of people wait a lot longer."
Worried that her own stomach would no longer work, surgeons gave Layton a new stomach and pancreas as well as small intestine.
But on June 6, her body rejected the intestine. And because she has a rare blood type, she thought she'd have a long wait for another transplant.
In just five days, though, she was back in the OR. This time, she was given the stomach, pancreas, small intestine and liver of a 15-year-old boy who'd died after an accident on a four-wheeler.
"My liver had gotten so bad from the constant (intravenous feeding)," she explains. "And they said they have more success if they do the liver too."
Five months later, Layton came home to Taylors. And last year, she returned to her school, which helped raise money for her medical bills. The first transplant, she says, pushed her over her $1 million lifetime coverage maximum.
Now on anti-rejection drugs, Layton is one of 31 transplant recipients and 22 donor family members from South Carolina traveling to Pittsburgh to participate in this year's games, says Mark Johnson, spokesman for LifePoint, Inc., South Carolina's organ procurement agency.
And each week, she and Preston, 32, an assistant manager for South Carolina Steel, take to the lanes to "train," she says with a chuckle.
"I'm not going with the intent of winning. I'm just going to have a good time and to celebrate life and to let the donor families see what kind of good they've done by giving up their family member's organs," she says. "They didn't have to do that."
Life isn't quite the same as it was before the illness and the transplants. But Layton says she feels pretty good most of the time.
"You've got to make the best of it," she says. "I consider myself very blessed."
For more info on this year's North American transplant games visit the following links: U.S. Transplant Games 2008 Pittsburgh July 11-16, 2008. Canadian Transplant Games Windsor, ON Aug 5-10, 2008.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Your generosity can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance another 50 through cornea and tissue donation