To this point, my focus has primarily been on my kidney disease, the resulting transplant, and now life after the transplant. I have alluded to the fact that my kidney disease was brought on by Diabetes, but I have not yet explored those days back in 1983 when my life changed forever.
But actually before I go back to 1983, I really need to start back even further, around 1970, when I was three…this is really when I began living with Diabetes. How is that possible, you ask? That is when, at the age of six, my sister, Linda, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Linda may have been the one who physically had the disease, but Mom and Dad, Tommy and I all lived with it and coped with it as a family. Even our extended family was, and still is, very supportive. I can’t think of a better family – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. – to be a part of. It was a learning experience for all of us, and we did it together.
Six years old. I can’t imagine being that young, or even younger, and having to deal with this disease. I thought it was hard enough being diagnosed at 16. But, I guess, in some ways, Linda was able to deal with it a little easier because it was now going to be her way of life, our families way of life, and when you are that young you don’t know any better than what your mother or father are telling you or raising you. It also helped Linda to have friends who did not judge her, including Jodi, who would become Linda’s best friend for life, and like a sister to Tommy and I, as well as a second daughter to Mom and Dad.
Linda and I gave Mom and Dad a lot to deal with when we were younger. With Linda being diagnosed at six, and, for about the two years prior to that, me developing childhood Asthma (which included many trips to the hospital because I couldn’t breathe – that was a lot of fun…not). Mom use to say that we definitely made life very exciting.
So, now at six years old, Linda began experiencing life with two, three, sometimes four shots every single day, and having to learn to recognize high and low blood sugars, and how to treat those moments when they happen. She would have to test her sugars not on nice little hand monitors that we have today, but with test strips she would have to dip into urine and then try to determine what her sugar was based on the color the test strip turned – figuring out the color of the test strips was no easy feat either when the color could have easily been one of two to choose from (though she would get to use a monitor later on, but they were huge compared to today’s models).
Though, through her years living with Diabetes, when she was young and as she got older, I never heard her complain much about it, even as it was taking a toll on her body. Linda endured the pain of neuropathy, retinopathy, and nephropathy, all nasty, nasty side effects of Diabetes. I remember Linda crying in pain because her feet hurt so much because of neuropathy, or screaming in Dr. Ryan’s office as he gave her laser eye surgery. Dr. Ryan was a savior to Linda, however, as he saved her eyesight, saved it. Linda was going blind from the effects Diabetes was doing to her eyes with blood vessels in her retinas hemorrhaging like you wouldn’t believe, and Dr. Edward Ryan, God bless him, saved Linda’s eyesight, and later has done the same for me. As with the nephropathy, the wonderful form of kidney disease brought on by Diabetes (yes, I am being sarcastic), it did get to the point that Linda did need a kidney transplant. However, at that time Linda was referred to the transplant center at the University of Pittsburgh, where they wanted to do a kidney/pancreas transplant. The kidney/pancreas transplant, now much more common, was still in its experimental stages back then.
Dad use to lovingly call Linda a “determined little piss ant”, but she was still his little girl and nothing was ever going to change that (as a tear wells up in my eye as I write that). It was Linda’s determination that made her who she was. Ever since Linda was a little girl, she always wanted to be a nurse. It could very well have been because she was in and out of hospitals and clinics like the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, but honestly, I don’t really know why Linda always wanted to be a nurse – foolishly, I never asked her. But she was determined, none the least, and there was no way in hell anything was going to stand in her way if she could help it, not even Diabetes.
I remember when Linda was going through school, she was a nursing student at Simmons College in Boston, and it was during her senior year, and she was having a lot of trouble with her eyes. When her eyes were not as bad, Linda had made up flash cards, like many students do, to help her study. But as her eyes got a little worse, it was difficult for her to use the flash cards. That’s when she recruited Tommy and I to help her study. Tommy and I would take turns going through the flash cards with Linda so that she would not have to strain her eyes…I swear, to this day, Tommy and I should be nurses as well with everything we helped Linda study for. And to boot, I can’t not stop and think about Linda and all of the studying we did, whenever I hear the song Always Something There To Remind Me by the 80’s band Naked Eyes, which Linda loved to listen to when we studied, that and anything Motown! Although, if I were to choose a song today that embodied how Linda lived, it just might be The Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga.
Linda successfully graduated from Simmons, passed her nursing boards and was hired as a staff nurse at Children’s Hospital in Boston. However, on March 14, 1989, while on the first day of vacation in West Palm Beach, Florida with another nurse from Children’s, Linda passed away. Officially, it was said that her heart stopped. Although, I know that Linda’s heart has never stopped beating in me or Tommy, or Mom, or Dad before he, himself, passed away in 2005, or in anyone else in our family. Linda died at the hands of the insidious disease known as Diabetes.
Flash back now from 1989 to December 28, 1983……
If you, or someone you know is interested in organ donation, please contact: www.neod.org; www.donatelifenewengland.org, www.organdonor.gov; www.unos.org; www.donatelife.net; www.organtransplants.org; or www.thewaitinglist.org, or, by all means, speak to your own physician, or feel free to send me an email.