Looking back over the last 30 years, Carmen of Athens, Michigan feels blessed. At 54, she’s a happily married grandmother who runs a small gift shop and loves life more than ever. The road to this point was not always smooth for Carmen. She was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1981 and began in-center hemodialysis in 1983. With a four-year old son and a newborn daughter to care for, she was devastated. "I didn’t want to leave my children motherless."
After less than a year on dialysis, her younger brother donated a kidney. Unfortunately, Carmen’s body kept trying to reject the kidney, putting her in the hospital frequently for the next 10 years. She says, "I felt like the most pathetic weakling…sorry for myself and blaming the world." Sleeping all the time with bills mounting and her children growing up without her, Carmen sank into depression.
In 1994, the kidney failed completely. Carmen went back to dialysis and tried to cope with another disappointment. In less than a year a new kidney was available. Carmen received her second transplant and was healthy enough to get a job to help pay the medical bills. But in 1995, this kidney also rejected.
For Carmen, sadness and despair took over again. "My wake-up call came in the form of a call from my sister. I was crying and whining about my life. She just ’lit into me’ like she has never done before. She told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. She reminded me that my kids and husband needed me, and I was not the only one going through this. My family was hurting too but I was too selfish to see it. The more I thought about it, the more I knew she was right. I decided to never again let despair and depression take over my life."
She hasn’t. In 1997, Carmen started peritoneal dialysis (PD) and took control of her own treatments. With a more positive outlook, she was able to become a mentor for the National Kidney Foundation, a volunteer for the Gift of Life Agency, and even started a support group for her dialysis center. Helping others became a great remedy for coping with her own illness. Even when Carmen’s PD catheter had to be removed and she returned to in-center hemodialysis, she did not let the depression overtake her. In fact, she decided to finish a book she had started and in 2001, The Courage To Live: My Journey With God. A Kidney Patient’s Story was published. A second book, Panama Crossroads Of The World: My Reflections Of Childhood was published in 2005.
As soon as daily home hemodialysis with the NxStage System One™ was offered at her center in 2007, Carmen signed up, wanting to take charge of her life once again. Shortly after beginning daily home hemo, she felt better than she had in very long time. "I thank God for the NxStage cycler. It’s given me and my family a new lease on life. I have energy."
"I am so grateful…I didn’t think I would live to watch my children grow up, marry, and have children of their own. Today, I can enjoy my grandchildren. I am content."
Read more about Carmen's life on her husband's Alligator Sanctuary in the Spring 2011 issue of Home at Last.