CSULB staffer reflects with gratitude after life-saving organ transplant
I was a healthy, vibrant 24-year-old living in sunny Miami. I had been raised as an only child by two loving parents. I had just finished graduate school and had started a new job and I was looking forward to starting a new career.
Out of nowhere, I got really sick. I was thirsty all the time. I could not keep food down. I was retaining water – my ankles and mid-section became enlarged. I was weak and I just felt miserable.
Before this, I had never needed to go to the hospital for any reason and had nothing more than the common cold. But now, I found myself in the hospital emergency room.
Since I was still in my probationary period at work, I didn’t have medical coverage, which led to a 22-hour wait in the emergency room. Once I was finally seen, I was quickly diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and spent the next two weeks in the hospital.
I started taking medication to stabilize my condition and after two years, I had to begin dialysis. I had become an elementary school teacher and I would go to dialysis treatments three times a week after work for four hours at a time.
By now, my parents had moved away to retire to southern Georgia. I was alone. I was scared. I was 26 years old, and I didn’t know if I was going to see my next birthday.
It was very heavy to be faced with my own mortality on a daily basis.
As I started dialysis treatments, I also began the process to get added to the kidney transplant wait list. There were almost 40 medical clearances and tests that I had to complete to qualify. It took a little over a year to get medically cleared to be added to the transplant waiting list. It was exhausting, but successful.
Over the next 14 months, I was called six times by the hospital notifying me that they had a possible match for me. I’d get a call, usually in the morning, that I should get to the main hospital within four hours to give blood for the final determination.
And then I’d go home and wait by the phone for up to 12 hours.
By the fourth call, I’d started losing hope.
I had gotten to know the nurse who drew my blood each time. “See you next time,” I’d say to her as I left. “No, you won’t - this is your match!” she would respond cheerfully, giving me an encouraging smile.
We would have this exchange two more times.
I was now almost 30 years old.
On Nov. 17, 2010, more than five years after being diagnosed, I received the seventh call that would change my life forever.
It was 9:30 on a weeknight. I was watching “For Colored Girls” on television at home. Michael Ealey’s character had just dropped his two toddlers out of the window of a high-rise apartment. I was in tears and then the phone rang.
I was still an emotional wreck from what I’d just seen in the movie. I could not comprehend what the woman was saying on the other end of the phone.
“Miss Washington, we have a match for you. We need you to come to the hospital by midnight to check in for your kidney transplant.”
By 7 a.m. I was waking up from a successful surgery looking into the eyes of my very concerned parents. They had driven all night (seven hours) from Georgia to be by my side.
I received the gift of a second chance at life in the form of a kidney transplant. An 18-year-old young man lost his life to gun violence and his family made the decision to donate.
The hospital gives transplant recipients an opportunity to write a letter to the donor family that the hospital staff delivers to them. I very much wanted to write them but how do you really say “thank you” for such an enormous sacrifice?
There is also a delicate balance of not celebrating my life too much in the letter to the family that has lost their loved one. How do I do this? It took an awfully long time to reconcile within myself and then write a letter of thanks to the family.
I am forever grateful to that soul and that family for the gift they gave me. I hope that knowing that they have saved lives gives them comfort as they mourn the loss of their loved one. He lives on in me and in the many other lives he saved and enhanced.
Now, 11 years later, I reflect on the life that I have been able to live since that day. I have since moved to California and have started a life here. I have been able to experience many facets of my career, including being a software analyst here on campus. I am also a graduate student in the Educational Technology and Media Leadership program. I am so excited to become a CSULB alumna next fall.
There is no real way to say thank you for a gift such as this. But I have become a OneLegacy Ambassador through which I volunteer time to spread the importance of registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor. I believe that sharing my story brings awareness to the need in a way that nothing else does.
I look forward to meeting the love of my life, continuing to travel the world, and settling into a nice life.
I reflect on all of things that I have experienced; the good, the bad, the triumphs, the mistakes, the global pandemic. It has all been a blessing that I am grateful to still be here to enjoy. I am humbled that God chose my life to be a living testimony of His love.
Somone D. Washington is a software analyst in the Office of Faculty Affairs at CSULB and a OneLegacy Ambassador. She is pursuing her Master of Arts degree in education. Beach Voices is an occasional feature that allows members of the Beach community – students, faculty, staff and alumni – to share their personal experiences. If you’d like to be considered, email submissions labeled “Beach Voices” to Strategic Communications.
Photo by: Yoshimi M. Wilson @SlidesByYoshimi (Instagram)