A life on holdTransplant hopeful yearns for a life free of dialysis treatment
By Lori Gilbert Recordnet.com
Shirley Garrison envisioned traveling in her retirement, to riding to the top of the Space Needle with her grandchildren who live in Bellingham, Wash., and visiting Disneyland with those who live in Southern California.
Instead, the 64-year-old Stockton woman is lucky to make it to the local grocery store.
Garrison suffers from end stage renal failure, a kidney condition that requires nine hours of peritoneal dialysis every night. The illness and treatment leave her weakened and nauseous. There's no cure. Her only hope is a kidney transplant, and the waiting list she's on at University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center has more than 400 people ahead of her.
According to the California Transplant Donor Network, the Oakland-based nonprofit that links donors with those in need of transplants at 175 hospitals in Northern and Central California and Northern Nevada, 505 of the 583 people waiting for organ transplants in San Joaquin County need kidneys. Statewide, 17,522 of the 21,755 awaiting organs need kidneys. Unlike other organs, which, when they are available, are awarded based on greatest need, kidneys are disbursed to those who've waited the longest.
The organ that removes a body's waste products, balances body fluids and controls the production of red blood cells has long been the most needed organ among transplant recipients.
"It's been that way for years," said Anthony Borders of the CTDN. "There's been an increasing trend, probably because of the increase in hypertension and diabetes."
Garrison has had other health issues, including hypertension, which she attributes to highly stressful jobs with San Joaquin County, and she suffered heart attacks in 1995 and 1997, but her kidney failure is hereditary. By the time it was diagnosed by her Kaiser doctors, it was too advanced to be treated with medication; dialysis will sustain her until she can receive a transplant.
"I was told I would not get a kidney for six to seven years," Garrison said. "I'll be 70, 71 at that time and I'm afraid they're not going to want to give a 70- or 71-year-old person major surgery. If I could find a donor, we could do the surgery sooner."
The likely candidate for kidney transplant is an immediate family member. Garrison's two daughters, whom she raised as a single parent, are unable to donate. Both show signs of the same disease that has struck Garrison. Her lone sister has only one properly functioning kidney. Her 82-year-old mother offered one of her kidneys, but doctors rejected it because of her age. Garrison's 87-year-old father has kidney disease, too, but doctors discovered it soon enough to treat it with medication.
"My mom said, 'I'd be the first in line to give you my kidney,' but they won't take her kidney because of her age, and I wouldn't risk her life for that," Garrison said.
Another daughter, whom Garrison adopted as a single mother, has an autoimmune condition and isn't a candidate either.
That leaves Garrison waiting along with hundreds of others, some of whom have been on the list longer than she.
Her spot in line was established in Oct. 7, 2010, seven months after her kidney disorder was diagnosed.
"It started in 2008," Garrison said. "I didn't know it was my kidneys. My back was hurting. It turns out it was because my kidneys weren't functioning correctly."
Her body was losing calcium as a result of her kidney condition, and it caused her spine to deteriorate, Garrison said. Her back pain got so bad she was forced to retire after more than 20 years working for the county. The condition left her walking with a cane. She doesn't have complete feeling in her feet, calcium deposits on her spine having affected the nerve endings.
She began nightly dialysis in February.
On good days she can clean the house, maybe do a little cooking in the hours leading up to those nine-hour sessions, for which she has a tube inserted in her stomach.
During that time she also waits.
She can't bring herself to ask friends to donate a kidney to her, but she hopes someone out there will do so.
The number of volunteers willing to donate organs upon death has grown since 2006 when the California Transplant Donor Network began soliciting them. More than 8.5 million Californians are registered and the number is expected to pass the 9 million mark early next year. In San Joaquin County, 33 percent of those eligible to be donors have registered.
"We always tell people that making donations are probably the least amount of time you can invest in doing something for the most people," Borders said. "It takes five minutes to register to be an organ donor, and down the road you can possibly save eight lives and many more through tissue donation.
To become a donor, visit www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org or www.doneVIDAcalifornia.org.
“You Have the Power to Donate Life – Sign-up today!
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
United States, organdonor.gov
United Kingdom, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You