Tessie Smith

After 16 years of dialysis treatments, I received my kidney transplant on April 7, 2008.

Tessie Smith

Tessie Smith

I was diagnosed with lupus nephritis in 1985 at the age of 11. We were told by my doctors I wouldn't live past 17 years old, but I did. Six weeks after my 18th birthday, I began dialysis treatments. Throughout the first 6 years of treatment, I was severely depressed and spent more time, with each passing year, in the hospital. I became bulimic, and all of my free time was spent exercising for hours everyday. I never let my weight get above 110 lbs. I felt like I would never get better.

At 24 years old, I received my first transplant. I was excited and thankful, but complications from one of the transplant medications caused me to become very sick. My donated kidney lasted less than 7 days. I was very sick after the transplant and needed to be monitored for 2 years before I could be re-listed. In 2000, I was back on the list. While waiting, I continued to become more obsessed with my weight. I guess I felt that this was the only thing in my life that I had control of. I continued to exercise excessively. I was also diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which was a horrible, time consuming disorder to have.

I was already in my 30's when I decided to go to college. I began slowly making friends. They all noticed the OCD and the skeletal frame that I had, but only a few of them asked me if I was ok.

I was beginning to become very afraid of all of the surgeries and other problems. The depression, OCD, and bulimia were horrible. My life went on like this for years. I tried to make everyone think that I was fine and that nothing worried me, but I was so afraid that I would never know what a life free of the prison of dialysis would feel like.

In 2007, I began to be hospitalized more frequently. My dialysis accesses were being operated on or changed almost every 6 weeks. I no longer had the energy to exercise like I did before. My blood pressure never went above 84/42, and I lost more weight without trying to. I had always prayed, but now all that I could do was to just give all of my worry and fear to God. Everyone I started dialysis with had now passed away, and that really made me afraid.

It would take 10 years, a total of 16 years on the list, over 35 surgeries and procedures combined, before I would get the call that I had been waiting for. I had been called several times by the transplant coordinators, but nothing ever happened. The call that I received in April 2008 was so different. I don't know why, but something inside of me just knew that this was the call.

On the drive to New Orleans, I sat in the backseat and thought. It really dawned on me that someone had died and that this person's death was the only way I would live a longer, healthier life. I had never really thought about it in that way before.

I wondered about what had happened to him/her. I wondered how that person's family was feeling. I felt so much guilt because my family was celebrating my new life, while the donor family was grieving. It was harder for me than I ever imagined it would be.

I remember waking up after my surgery and placing my hand over my new kidney, knowing that I would do everything I could to take care of it and keep it healthy.

For months I couldn't say the words "my kidney.” I still don't really know why I couldn't say it, but maybe it was the guilt that I still felt.

I was feeling so much guilt inside, until I spoke to Libby Harrison from LOPA. When I found out that she was a donor mom and worked for LOPA, it helped me to understand that these families donate to help and that it also helps them to know that another life has been saved.

I am so thankful and forever will be. This gift has changed my life so much. Not only has it restored my physical health, but my mental health too. From the moment I had my transplant, I have not done anything to lose weight, nor have I had any OCD episodes. I feel more spiritually connected to my loved ones too.

Since my transplant, I can do so many things. Some of the smaller things like having bananas and orange juice, without the fear of cardiac arrest because these elevate potassium in dialysis patients. I can drink water without the threat of suffocating on my own fluids. I can go places with my family and not have to worry about being back for dialysis treatments. I couldn't do any of these things and so many other things while on dialysis.

I have so much hope now. I know that there is so much to look forward to, and I am not afraid to look toward my future anymore.

I will never forget my donor family's courage, and I will never stop wondering about my donor. I don't know why, but I and other recipients feel this need to know and it's a powerful need.

I hope to meet my donor family someday and thank them in person. I don't think that words could ever truly tell the story of all that my heart feels inside, for my donor; someone who I have never met, but a part of her lives on inside of me, helping me to live a very blessed and wonderful life.

I can truly say that I have a better understanding of life and love because of my transplant. So many good things and good people have come into my life since then, like everyone from LOPA who are some of the most amazing people and who share my story. I'm praying that someday I can sit face to face with my donor family. I'm not afraid to open my heart, just be myself and tell them that all the good that has come into my life since my transplant has been because of their courage.