Thursday, July 5, 2012
Here is the article Ashley wrote for the Sanford Herald. There might have been a few editorial changes made, but this is pretty close to the exact article.
On May 21, 2012, I celebrated the 3 month anniversary of my kidney transplant. I know that a lot of people in our community have kept up with my story, so I wanted to make a public thank you to everyone who has supported me, whether through prayer, well wishes or financially.
My family moved to Lee County in 1985 from Harnett County. We were, in a lot of respects, in a strange new land. My sisters and I had to start new schools and my mom, who was already a student at CCTC, had to make friends in a new neighborhood. We didn’t have any family here. Our closest relative was my aunt who lived in Bunnlevel. For all the isolation we might have felt, we were greeted with welcome arms by essentially everyone we encountered. It was not long before my mom had made friends that were as close to her as sisters. My sisters were always going to a friend’s house or going to the movies. I feared that my disease would keep people from wanting to befriend me, but other than a few instances, that was never the case. People saw me for who I was, not for what I had. I am not just talking about other children; I am also talking about adults.
We lived in Sanford for 5 years. While there, I attended Jonesboro and J. Glenn Edwards Elementary. When I was 10, my mother bought a house in Broadway, so I had to switch schools once again. By the time I entered East Lee Middle School, I had attended 4 elementary schools. Also, when I was 10, I experienced my first exacerbation of Cystic Fibrosis. I had spent my life doing breathing treatments, chest percussion and taking pills, but I never understood what having this disease really meant… until one day, I was climbing a dogwood tree in my front yard, and I felt something stabbing me in the chest. I dropped to the ground in pain. My mother rushed me to the emergency room at Duke and I was diagnosed with pneumonia. It was at that very moment that my childhood ended. I was still the energetic, mischievous child I had always been, but I understood something about the world that most children have the privilege of never even thinking about – that life could be devastating. After the doctors told us that I would have to be admitted, they left the room. I crawled into my mom’s lap and cried while she rocked me and assured me I’d be ok. In that moment, I only knew the comforting warmth of her embrace. Now, 21 years later, I shudder thinking about the fear she too must have felt and I am amazed by the strength it took for her to never reveal that to me.
It was only a week into my hospital stay when I received a package from Broadway Elementary containing around 50 handmade cards from other students in my grade wishing me well and telling me to hurry and get back to school. This is a story that would repeat itself all the way up to my high school graduation. With every hospitalization, and honestly, there were too many to count, came letters, cards, phone calls, and visits. Most people who have been in a hospital will tell you that it is the last place to go to get rest. This is the truth and for me it was not just because doctors and nurses are coming in and out of your room 24 hours a day, but because between visits, reading my mail, decorating my room with my cards or flowers, and talking on the phone, there wasn’t any time to rest! My senior year of high school I spent 4 months in the hospital, 3 at Duke and 1 at Baylor in Houston, Texas. During that time, the combination of my disease and my medications caused me to drop to a dangerously low weight and I even lost the ability to read. By the time I returned to school, I had taught myself how to read again and worked my way through a small part of Jack London’s Call of the Wild. No one in my medical community thought I would be able to graduate and even tried to talk my mom into holding me back a year. But my mom never believed in holding me back from anything. I graduated that year with the rest of my class. I remember on graduation when my name was called out, everyone began cheering for me. After I had crossed the staged, I collapsed into the arms of my guidance counselor, Mrs. Kite. I was weak in the knees and sobbing uncontrollably. I had done it…I had defied every diagnosis thrown my way, and I had achieved my goal of living long enough to receive my high school diploma.
Graduation was 14 years ago, and I am still defying diagnoses. I will be 32 years old on August 1st and my mother was originally told that I would never live to see 9 years old. My fight for life hasn’t been easy and has involved numerous surgeries and treatments, including a double lung transplant 11 years ago and my kidney transplant in February of this year. This fight, however, has not been fought alone. People have come out to my fundraisers in freezing cold, rainy weather. They have donated, even when the expense was too much for them to bear. I have received Facebook emails from children as young as 12 years old asking if they can donate their kidney to me. I have been given prayer after prayer begging God to heal me in some way, shape or form. People have even written letters to our government asking them to help me be able to afford my medical care. I feel as if my community has just as much stake in my health as I do or as my family does. I am beyond ecstatic to tell them that now, over 3 months post transplant, my kidney functions are the best they have been since I was in pediatrics. I am happy to say that I now can go an entire month, working 7 days a week, without needing a nap.
It is important to me to share my life with those who have held me up and helped me maintain my strength and dignity throughout my battle with Cystic Fibrosis. I want for other families who have children with this disease to know my story and, therefore, to know that their child has a fighting chance … but it is a fight and you have to be a warrior. I tell my stories with such personal candor because I feel they exemplify what the human spirit is capable of and because I think they clearly demonstrate how we live in a community that is willing to sacrifice for the good of another person, regardless of superficialities like race, religion or politics. So, again, I say thank you to everyone out there for going out of your way to not only ensure that I remain healthy, but also to make sure I get to wake up every morning to a brand new day!
Readers can follow my story at www.facebook.com/kidneycutie and by reading my living donor’s blog at www.jeremy-kate.com.