Local woman needs gift of life
By GLENDA H. CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
Everyone has something to share.
And so it becomes simply a matter of determining what we have to claim as our own and what we are willing to do with that gift once we recognize it.
For instance, if you know you have two strong kidneys and actually only require one to live a full and complete and healthy life, perhaps you might be willing to offer the “extra” one to someone who will die an untimely but certain death without it.
There are people with such needs, you know.
Not just people who live in big cities or other countries. But people who live only a couple of miles away. Or just down the street. Or next door.
Not just people whose pictures and stories appear at certain times of the year in certain publications when a fundraising drive is in progress. But people who shop at the same grocery as you. Who serve on the same civic or school committees. Who cheer on the same hometown teams. Who get haircuts at the same shop.
Seventy-six thousand such people — praying and waiting for a chance at life.
There are more of them within your own sphere of influence than you know.
Some will benefit if you fill out the organ donor part of your driver’s license and make your generous wishes known to your loved ones. That would place you in the ranks of the cadaver donors or those whose kidneys — or other healthy organs — become available at the moment of their death and are immediately utilized for the sake of someone in desperate need.
Some — usually those bound to you by ties of blood — will have their life extended because you cannot bear to stand by and do nothing for that one you love and so you willingly give an actual physical part of yourself while you are yet living.
Some — and this may be the most desperately needy group of all — can only wait prayerfully and believe that someone will step forward and offer them a chance at life before their own diseased organs fail. They have no family to turn to or their loved ones simply do not meet the criteria necessary to make the gift. They cannot make use of an organ donated at the death of the giver because their own medical condition necessitates special treatment for several days in advance of the transplant to ensure its success and the donated cadaver organ cannot be kept viable for that length of time.
Cindy (Phipps) Dotson is a neighbor in such need.
Perhaps you know her.
Or perhaps you need to meet her and her family.
Cindy has lived in Union City most of her life. She went to school here and fell in love here with her childhood sweetheart — Fred Dotson. Theirs is one of those teen-age marriages that should have failed because of their youth but, instead, has stood the test of time and blossomed. Best friends became best sweethearts became best couple. In sickness and in health.
For 37 years, the Dotsons have lived an uncomplicated and fulfilling existence centered around God and family. Their spiritual life is nourished at Lake Road Baptist Church. Their family life includes daughters Lisa Downey and Dawn Bratton and five grandchildren.
Fred, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with seven years of service to his country and a Goodyear employee, also owned and operated the former Cricket’s Restaurant in downtown Union City. The Dotsons currently own Mother Goose Daycare on East Reelfoot Avenue in Union City.
Cindy has been a homemaker most of their married life.
But these days, she is physically unable to care for her home as she would like or to be involved in her husband’s business ventures. Her weakened state means she spends 12-14 hours a day resting so that the little strength she has can be marshaled simply to keep her organs functioning. Soon she will be completely confined to bed. And she will begin to experience persistent stomach distress.
These days, Cindy’s kidney function is so minimal she is preparing for thrice-weekly dialysis and will be having her third surgery to “install” the port the procedure requires this week. Dialysis will then take over the task of cleansing her blood because her kidneys can no longer do the job well enough to sustain her life.
Cindy’s kidneys function at such a low level that she will die — even with dialysis — within three to five years if a living donor does not give her a healthy kidney very soon.
Cindy is 52 years old. Her kidneys began to “go bad” some time in the past, but the reality of her condition suddenly became inescapable about two years ago. Diabetes, which is treated with oral medication in her case, is one of the factors contributing to her distress. The removal of her thyroid also plays a part.
Cindy and Fred had almost come to terms with her physicians’ pronouncement that she would probably spend three to five years on a cadaver transplant list before the death of one generous person would make it possible for her to receive the kidney she needs. That is, after all, the average “wait time” for a hopeful kidney transplant recipient. At one point, they were notified a living donor had been found who would provide the organ needed immediately.
Then two things happened — first the news that there was a willing donor proved premature. The Dotsons will never know whether the donor simply changed his mind or whether he was in some way incompatible with Cindy’s needs. The transplant team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where she receives treatment, does not reveal the circumstances behind such disappointing news to the possible recipients.
Next, the couple discovered that the urgency of her situation had increased and there was no longer any point in hoping for a cadaver kidney or remaining on that lengthy waiting list. Her condition has progressed to the point that her extremely high antibody ratio — at four times higher than the average person — necessitates only a living donor. And that donor must fit a specific criterion.
To begin with, the donor must be O negative or O positive blood type. Incompatible blood types have ruled out all Cindy’s relatives as donors.
The donor must, of course, be in good health. Stringent testing by the transplant center takes place before the commitment to donate is sealed. Cindy cannot receive an organ that might possibly complicate her own fragile health and a potential donor who exhibits any other actual or potential health problems that would be aggravated by the loss of a kidney or would place that person in jeopardy in the future cannot give the organ.
Vanderbilt’s transplant center is justifiably proud of its record related to the ongoing health of donors with whom it works — none of those generous people have experienced circumstances that have made it necessary for them to go on dialysis themselves. Its record for recipients is equally impressive — since 1996, 98 percent of those blessed enough to receive the organ they need have survived.
The donor cannot be diabetic (Fred is and that is one of the reasons he cannot give his wife the gift he would gladly offer.) Potential donors with even a history of diabetes in their families have to undergo special testing before the transplant team can make a decision as to whether it is in everyone’s best interests for them to continue with their offer.
Donors cannot have high blood pressure or be undergoing, or have undergone, treatment for that condition.
Donors must be at least 18 years old.
No money can exchange hands in a transplant situation. It is illegal to accept or give funds for a transplanted organ.
But neither is there medical expense for the donor. Any charges associated with the transplant are covered either by the recipient’s insurance company or the transplant facility.
Anonymity of the donor is carefully guarded by the transplant team in the early stages. Anyone contacting Vanderbilt’s center will remain nameless when the team notifies Cindy that someone has expressed an interest in donating a life-saving kidney for her. Only if the potential donor proves to be a match and decides to continue with the procedure will the life-giver then be instructed to contact the person in need. Having received this best of all possible news, the potential recipient is responsible for contacting the transplant team and accepting the offer. The hospital then proceeds to coordinate the event, factoring in Cindy’s circumstances which call for at least two weeks of pre-transplant treatment to adequately prepare her body.
The patient with two healthy kidneys going into the procedure will spend 24-72 hours in the hospital and two to four weeks recovering at home. That length of time is governed almost entirely by the type job the donor will be returning to — the more physically strenuous the task, the more time doctors will recommend be spent recuperating. During this healing process, the donor’s remaining kidney will be undergoing a miraculous “growth” process that will enable it to take over the work the pair of healthy kidneys previously performed so that the donor knows no resulting distress or decrease in organ function.
A little over half of those who make the unselfish decision to become donors will be rejected, Fred says.
In their own family, there is no one who could make the gift to Cindy.
And so they pray for someone from the wider family of faith or community or compassion who will respond and grant Cindy more than a couple of years of steady deterioration — with even that fragile state made possible only by three to five hours a day of dialysis three times a week — and eventual death.
Fred Dotson says Cindy is not the only person he knows who needs a kidney. In Obion County, there are several names on the cadaver list — meaning they can still utilize the kidney of a donor at their death. But as Cindy and Fred know only to well, even that hopeful possibility can be snuffed out before a transplant can take place and a living donor can become an only chance.
For that reason, the couple urges anyone who knows someone with such a need, even in the early days of the diagnosis, to offer a kidney specifically for that patient and not to wait and hope someone else will step forward or a cadaver kidney will become available just in the nick of time.
Kidney disease ranks just behind cancer and heart attack as the most frequent cause of death in this country, according to Cindy’s husband.
He will not willingly let it claim his best friend and precious wife.
“As long as you have love for God and love for each other, that’s what it is all about,” Fred says.
And so he studies the situation. He moves through these days clinging to hope, refusing to accept early death as inevitable and trying to make whatever time is left precious. And he makes plans and pleas.
For Cindy’s sake — and all others who are waiting while time slips away — he is asking for prayer. Her name is on the prayer list at several area churches already, but they covet the petitions of all who believe. “I know His will is going to be done in His time,” Fred says. “But I also believe God helps those who help themselves. So I’ll do all I can do for her. I’ll be as supportive as I can and try to meet every need I can.”
For Cindy’s sake — and all others whose lives are geared to waiting for the phone to ring with the good news that a donor has been found — he is asking for monetary donations to Vanderbilt’s nephrology department and transplant program so that even more life-giving strides can be made.
For Cindy’s sake — and all others who have the potential to make this world a better place if their time here is extended — he is asking for the gift of a kidney.
While the gift can spell hope.
While the gift can mean life.
Is it within your power to offer?
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in learning more about the possibility of becoming a living donor for a kidney patient in need of a healthy organ, you may contact Fred Dotson by e-mail at email@example.com. You need not identify yourself; simply ask for more information and he will supply it and tell you how to make contact with the Vanderbilt transplant team.
Published in The Messenger 5.2.08