Our mother, Andrea was unaware of what was taking place within her until she applied for an adjustment to her life insurance policy, and was denied. During a routine health exam our mother was diagnosed with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD), the last stage of chronic kidney disease/or Chronic Kidney Failure
(CKF) in 2004. Her kidneys no longer could support her day-to-day life and it changed her life and the lives of everyone around her. Not
only did her health diminish, but also, her doctors could not explain why this happened so unexpectedly. I was 11 years old when my mother received
her diagnosis. Entering early
adolescence, it was difficult to see her health decline so suddenly.
While she faced physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual changes, changes also took place within me. There were so many questions that could not be answered. At 11 years old, I had to come to terms with our mother's team of doctors who could not explain how this happened so unexpectedly and to accept the fact that if my mother did not start dialysis immediately, she could die. Acceptance was difficult because our mother was only 50 years old. While she felt completely healthy, something was taking place within her body over an extended period of time that she could not have foreseen or felt. Although it was hard to not understand how or why these events took place, what I did know was that everything would get better. I believed that every dark cloud has a silver lining. The true meaning of hope and perseverance was instilled into the heart, mind and soul of the eleven-year-old daughter of a dialysis patient. I learned how to be steadfast.
A diagnosis of ESRD leaves a patient with two choices to stay alive: dialysis or a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, dialysis was our mother's only option at this point. Dialysis treatments were mandatory. Prior to all long distance trips, dialysis had to be coordinated at an approved dialysis center in place of scheduled treatments. I distinctly remember attending the wedding of our mom's niece, Felisha (my first cousin), in Michigan during the summer of 2004. In order for her to safely travel to attend her niece's wedding, she had to schedule an appointment at an approved dialysis center in Michigan. If she missed her scheduled treatments, her body reacted negatively to the build-up of toxins. Not fully understanding why our mom had to spend 3-4 hours on a dialysis machine was challenging, especially during our family visit to Michigan. I remember dropping her off at the Davita Dialysis Center and having to do all of the "fun stuff" without her. Could anything really be fun, without mom being there? Confusion with the lack of understanding filled our minds as our mother was going through the physical, mental and emotional changes, which were now routine. It was difficult for her to miss out on family functions because she had to spend hours at a time on a dialysis machine. Successful treatments determined her health and well-being.
It was difficult for her to go and work
with insensitive co-workers, who would sometimes ask the most insensitive questions such as, 'Andrea, what's going on
with you? Do you have cancer? Why are your clothes so big?’ Continuing to work was a challenge because her condition weakened her body and often times she didn't have
the strength to stand before her students to teach.
My mother’s illness wasn't the only test she faced during this time. She is a wife, mother and an educator. She also had the responsibility of taking care of my grandmother (her mother), with assistance from my aunts and uncles, as she held the family together as best she could under these circumstances. There were times when she felt that no one understood what she was going through, an emotion that left her feeling alone. She had so many questions as to why she faced so many trials, tribulations and various complications while on dialysis.
Her physical appearance noticeably changed as shown in her pictures. Often times, she experienced low blood pressure, muscle fatigue, dry and itchy skin, and nausea. Her appetite was affected and she no longer could enjoy the foods that she liked most (ie: tomatoes, bananas, potatoes, cheese, orange juice, chocolate milk and chocolate-covered cashews). Each of these foods listed were exceptionally high in phosphorus or potassium, and had to be limited or totally avoided. Aside from all of this, the complication that affected her the most was when she was hospitalized and diagnosed with double pneumonia and endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). This infection completely destroyed her aorta valve. This new diagnosis required (that prior to going through the process for a possible kidney transplant), that she undergo open-heart surgery to have her aorta heart valve replaced. I was a sixth grader during the time of this surgery. Our Aunt Maggie visited from Michigan to assist our mother during this transition, and to help care for our ill grandmother.
Soon after our mother recovered from open-heart surgery, the oldest brother, David, began necessary testing and procedures to see if he could be a match for our mother. There is a national wait-list for kidney patients who desire to receive a kidney transplant. The wait-list consists of living donors and deceased organ donors. The length of time in which a person has to wait depends on several factors, but is essentially determined by the degree of matching between the recipient and the donor. Some wait several years for a compatible match, while others are matched within a few months. However, David decided that he didn't want our mother to wait for a donor. He chose to "save a life," and began the process to see if he could be her living donor. This process took several months, but once all of the testing was complete, we found out that David was a 98% match for our mom. After discovering this, David shared his selfless idea and act of love with our family, and then our mom. Initially, she was scared. She didn't want David to make that sacrifice because she did not quite understand what could happen to him, if he only had one kidney. After researching the procedure, having several talks and securing feelings of reassurance, our mother became overjoyed. She was speechless that her child would even consider undergoing an operation that would give her a second chance at life. I was thrilled of the idea that my mother's life would soon be restored, but I was also scared of the possibility of losing them both during the operation. On faith, I believed that God would move this mountain and perform a miracle on our behalf.
The surgery was scheduled the Monday after Easter Sunday (in 2006). I will never forget going to the altar on Easter Sunday at our home church (Friendship Missionary Baptist Church). Everyone in our church family wrapped their loving arms around us and prayed for the surgery to be successful. Late that night, mom stayed up until about 3:00 AM the morning of her surgery, completing lesson plans for her substitute teacher as required and to benefit the children in her classroom. No matter how many times we tried to convince her that she should be resting before surgery, she wanted to make sure her classroom was in order. Even prior to surgery, Andrea Cox, a believer in God, is a dedicated woman of faith and family, and educator of many children felt compelled to make sure that her students were still under her guidance.
On April 17, 2006, David donated one of his kidneys to our mother. This is the most beautiful aspect of our story--the fact that David was her donor. The surgery took a remarkable 4 to 5 hours at Duke University Hospital. The surgeon was amazed at how successful the surgery went. He was also in awe of how easily and accessible David's kidney was. Typically, several internal organs must be removed in order to access the kidneys (since they are located in the abdominal area against the back muscles of the body). In the case of David and my mother, however, the intestines did not have to be removed from the body. I truly believe this was nothing but divine power, grace and influence from the God that we believe in. After surgery, David was able to walk down the hall to visit our mother in her room (you may see photos in the gallery section). Immediately, we noticed an improvement in our mother's appearance. Her eyes began to turn white again, and her nails regained a clear color underneath. Her skin was restored back to its normal complexion. It was such a beautiful and unforgettable sight to witness. There was no feeling to describe how amazing it was to see our loved ones' life being restored right before our eyes.
I learned the true meaning of inner beauty during this time in my
life. As a little girl, my mother was always the most perfect and beautiful
woman on this earth. During her illness, I witnessed the most beautiful woman
on the earth become stripped of her physical beauty. Nevertheless, she was never stripped of her
heart of gold nor her kindred spirit. She was never stripped of her drive or
compassion to assist others. She was never stripped of being an amazing mother to her
three children and an excellent caregiver for her ill mother. She was still all
of the wonderful things that made her Andrea Cox. Our mother may not have looked
like herself physically while on dialysis, but she was still beautiful internally,
and that is what made her beautiful to me. I never focused on the many changes that her body had to endure until looking back at all of the pictures we took from 2004-2006.
It was as if, God himself blinded me from the reality of what was really taking
place in front of my early adolescent eyes.
2016 marked the tenth anniversary our mother's journey, a story steeped in miracles. Words can never express the true beauty behind it, and neither can this short story. I have come to realize that often times, we must encounter challenges in our lives not for self, but to lend assistance and be a vessel for someone else who may be dealing with similar circumstances. Our mother's kidney failure, double pneumonia and endocarditis still remains a mystery. What we do know, is that she has a miracle story to share. We each do--her story as a transplant recipient and survivor of chronic kidney disease; David's story as a living donor; and my other brother, Terrence and me, the stories of children who's mother was a transplant recipient and the siblings of a living organ donor.
Today, I am a registered organ donor and it is listed on my driver's license. I have met and heard the stories of so many people who have been affected by kidney disease. These stories, in conjunction with ours, are what motivated me to take a new step towards advocacy with It Only Takes 1One. These stories inspire me to serve as voice for kidney patients, recipients, and donors. Millions of people have kidney disease and are on dialysis. There are so many of these people who are unable to partake in a transplant (immediately) due to either preexisting conditions or old age. Thousands more are on the waiting list for a transplant. Numerous of these people do not have family members who are a match, or remain on the list for years, due to the lack of organ donors. Surely, individuals that have undergone the transplantation procedure truly have a story to tell. My mother is fortunate to be one of them. With this in mind, we work together to fight kidney disease, advocate for organ donation, share our story, and inspire everyone to maintain their kidney health.
Year After Transplant