[IP] Tales from a 'transplant veteran'
I received this from another list I was on. I had to share it.
Tales from a 'transplant veteran'
Wed Jan 12,10:01 AM ET Top Stories - USATODAY.com
By Scott Bowles, USA TODAY
This is not how I expected to spend Christmas Eve.
While my mother's holiday ham sits warming on the stove, I lie freezing on a
gurney in Crawford-Long Hospital as nurses try to figure out what's wrong with
I know. It's the same thing that has repeatedly sent me to the hospital over
the last five years since I decided to treat my severe diabetes with a kidney
and pancreas transplant.
Every six or nine months, it seems, I become nauseated, my heart starts
racing, and my levels of vital minerals such as magnesium and phosphorous
drop. I wind up in the emergency room needing intravenous fluids and other
But this time seems different. I've been in the ER nine hours, waiting for the
shivers to leave, for the vomiting to stop, for the air to fill my lungs.
Finally, I pass out. I come to for a moment to find the nurses handling me
roughly, shaking me, jabbing me with needles. I fall unconscious again, then
wake to my father's voice rising angrily to the nurses, doctors, anyone in the
room: "We almost lost him."
And all I can think is: It's better than diabetes.
No other decision
For two decades, I was losing the battle to the disease. It had claimed a
third of my eyesight, four-fifths of my kidney function and about all of the
hope I had of making it to 50 with my limbs intact.
After discovering the procedure on the Internet, I opted for a pancreas
transplant to replace the organ that stopped pumping insulin in my body when I
The amazing team at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis gave me
the pancreas and a kidney on Jan. 12, 2000.
My new birthday. I celebrate the fifth today.
Since the surgery, I've had no close calls with organ rejection. More
important, I haven't had a drop of insulin in five years.
My wife, Julie, and I have taken on a life free of needles, blood-sugar checks
and the daily diabetic juggling act of sugar, diet and exercise.
My doctors still consider me diabetic. They regard the disease as they do
cancer: You never beat it, you only force it into remission.
Those doctors don't have diabetes. If they did, they'd know that not having to
inject yourself two or three times a day with insulin feels nothing short of a
victory over the disease, which afflicts 18 million Americans.
So I consider these infrequent trips to the hospital a price to pay for a new
life. And I have an e-mail that reminds me what a small price that is.
On Jan. 11, 2001, a day before my transplant's first anniversary, I received a
note from someone whose name I didn't recognize: Peggy Grinsteiner.
"Hello, Scott," the e-mail began. "This is Peggy. You don't know me, but I'm
your kidney's aunt."
Peggy found me through the newspaper articles I had written about the
transplant. She is the aunt of Samuel Flegel, whose organs I received. She
wanted to give me the phone number of Samuel's parents, Valerie and Leroy.
I had no idea what to say to them. How do you thank someone for taking a son
off life support so a stranger can live? Realizing I'd never be able to script
a thank-you, I dialed the number in North Dakota the next day. A woman
"Hi," I said. "This is Scott Bowles."
I didn't have time to continue. The voice at the other end interrupted, warm
and inviting. "Hi Scott. How are you feeling?"
It was Valerie Flegel. She, too, was marking an anniversary.
"I'm good, because of you," I said.
We started slowly. I told her of the past year: the recovery, the returns to
the hospital. I told her what life had been like without diabetes.
She took it in, quietly. I couldn't tell whether she was uncomfortable hearing
She began asking deeper questions. What are my likes and dislikes? What is
Julie like? Where do we live? Do we have pets? Do I watch sports?
I realized what was happening. Her son is part of me. She needed to know how
he lives on and in whom. I became more at ease. It was as if I were catching
up with a long-lost relative.
Soon we were gabbing. I told her of my love of motorcycles, tennis and dogs. I
even confided that I once played an April Fool's joke on Julie by removing the
car from our garage and pretending it was stolen.
"In a lot of ways," she said, "you remind me of Sam."
Samuel was mischievous, she said with a laugh, fond of pranks and jokes. He
was born with a learning disability she described as "similar to dyslexia but
more severe." He overcame it, earned his GED and became an engineer for Red
River Valley and Western Railroad in Wahpeton, N.D.
He loved the outdoors, hunting and crossing the countryside on his
Without prompting, she recounted the accident. Samuel, 21, was riding home
from a New Year's party. He usually wore a helmet, but that evening he did
Taking a shortcut through a parking lot he had driven hundreds of times, he
struck a frozen mound of dirt. He was thrown from the bike, landed on his head
and lay undiscovered through the wintry North Dakota night. The frigid
temperatures helped keep his body alive. When a police officer found him, he
was in a coma.
"We got to the hospital, and I knew it was over," Valerie said. I could tell
she was crying, but she didn't stop talking. "I volunteer at hospitals. I knew
in my heart we were going to lose him."
Valerie said that when doctors asked about preserving Samuel's organs, she
didn't hesitate. "Sam was always going to be my son, no matter what the
doctors did," she said. "And if he could help someone, he will always be
That conversation has never left my head.
Keeping the gift alive
I am a transplant veteran now. My trips to the doctor for blood checks and
exams are once every three months. Still, a simple cold knocks me off my feet
and keeps me home for two days. I doubt I'll ever be used to swallowing a
mouthful of pills twice a day.
I can't seem to forget some diabetic ways. I drink only diet sodas and eat on
a regular schedule, as all diabetics are trained to do.
On the other hand, I have become a regular at K's Donut Emporium. I have a
candy drawer at work that would make Willy Wonka envious. And Julie and I are
living without the specter of the disease looming over our lives.
It may not always be this way. Transplants aren't necessarily permanent
solutions. Doctors say my body could reject the organs at any time.
If it does, I'll be back on the wait list.
But for the most part, I don't think that way. Even though I spent my holidays
in an Atlanta hospital and then had to check into UCLA Medical Center when I
returned home to California, I never thought I'd lose these organs. The sicker
I get, the more I feel like fighting.
I have no intention of allowing Samuel Flegel, or his parents' brave gift, to
die in me.
Scott Bowles' book chronicling the transplant, The Needle and the Damage Done,
is available in bookstores and at online retailers.
Rachel - "I would rather live my life as if there is a God, and die to find
out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't, and die to find out
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