Kidney Transplant Recipient

Lisa Marie Intravaia

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My Name is Lisa Marie Intravaia, I was diagnosed with diabetes (known then as “Juvenile onset”, what we now call type I Insulin dependent) when I was 12 years old. At the time of my diagnosis, I had begun to go into a diabetic coma. My blood glucose level was well above normal (60-110 mg/dL), mine was 1275 mg/dL. I am grateful to be here to tell this now. There were no other known relatives in my family who had diabetes, so I came as a complete surprise.

Living with diabetes was a constant challenge of balancing blood glucose levels, activities and meal planning. Not an easy task to take on for a 12-year-old whose favourite drinks were orange soda and slush puppies. There were many drastic changes in my diet and daily routine that had to take place in a very short amount of time. I learned what I needed to know to live with diabetes from the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, MA. Never did I know that I would continually be learning even more about diabetes by having to live with it for the rest of my life. I did what I had to do to live the best life I could. I graduated High School and went on to become a nurse at Northeastern University in Boston. Not an easy curriculum, but an amazing education. Becoming an RN really helped me to understand disease processes and the effect on the body. I didn’t let diabetes stop me, but little did I know how much it had already affected me from within.

Eventually, Diabetes had begun to affect my eyesight and I underwent multiple laser treatments and surgeries to save my vision. In 1990 I was expecting our 1st baby. I needed to be very strict with my diabetes care during this time, and although I kept my blood glucose levels the same as a non-diabetic, the damage was done and my baby boy didn’t survive past my 7th month of pregnancy.

It was a devastating time. Soon after I lost my baby, my kidneys began to fail. They lasted almost another 6 years before I was in end stage renal failure. During that time, I continued nursing, piano teaching on the side, and most importantly, I became a mother. My beautiful daughter, Kayla was born in 1991. We adopted her when she was 3 days old. She is the most precious gift of life I have ever received. I am grateful every day for the blessing of being her mother, to show her how to endure, see the good in the world, and live life to it’s fullest.

When Kayla was 4 years old, I was told that my kidney function had deteriorated to the point of needing dialysis. The type of dialysis I used was hemodialysis. I went to dialysis 3 times a week. Hemodialysis is a process that uses a system to remove the impurities from your blood as the kidneys once did. Excess fluids, and waste products in the blood are removed and the blood is returned to your body. It sounds like it should work out and you’ll be fine after the treatments. But remember, your kidneys are filtering your blood 24/7. Dialysis, is 3 times/week and for me for 3 hours every time. As you can tell, this was not going to be a permanent solution so I went on to be listed for a transplant.

In 1997 I was given a pager to carry at all times. Whenever this pager went off, it could mean that a life saving organ was available and I needed to be at the hospital immediately. It had dual meaning though, and the other side of the situation meant that a new donor angel had left a grieving loved one to give the gift of life. There is much respect and responsibility that comes with being a recipient. On September 9th 1997 at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, that respect and responsibility fell on me as I was blessed to receive both a kidney and pancreas from my donor angel who I will never know. I will always honour her with respect and take very seriously the responsibility of this gift she has given me.

To be the grateful recipient of such a gift is humbling to say the least. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel thankful for the chance to live my best life, to continue to be a mother to Kayla, a nurse, a piano teacher, to dance, and to not be constrained by diabetes. I have a working pancreas that produces insulin now. Thank you, Lord,! After the transplant I had to learn how to care for the angel within. (a name I once used for a support group I had begun). I take anti-rejection medication every day without fail and have been taking it now for 22 years. I will not complain about that because the blessing outweighs a few pills. There are many challenges in keeping you and your transplanted organs healthy. There are ups and downs and times when dealing with pharmaceuticals scratch at your last nerve. (of course, this being said by an RN), but never will I regret the decision to be listed. Here’s a fact people don’t usually know about transplant, when you get a kidney or a pancreas or both, the surgical team does not remove the old organs. The gifts of life are strategically placed.

I have been saying this next part since 1997. *I am forever grateful to my donor and her family, with much love and respect, Salamat Po.* Thank you for choosing to say yes to organ, tissue, and ocular donation.