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Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year: Celebration of a Second Chance at Life

Steve? Is that Steve?  I was astonished as I looked at Steve’s photos on the internet.  Steve’s picture showed him riding his motorcycle.  Another picture showed him in a suit, wearing a charming smile.  I was looking now at a strong and happy man.  A man full of life.

That was not the Steve I had met a few years ago.  He was one of my residents in the nursing home.  After I met him I became more careful at saying: ‘I love working with the elderly in the nursing home’ because he was not an elderly man.  Nursing homes, unlike many people believe, are not necessary for older people, or the place to die.  I’ve met quite a few younger residents whose unfortunate path of life and health battles forced them to be in a facility where they can get the care and assistance they need.  

Steve was one of them.  In his thirties, Steve was a frail man, afflicted by kidney failure and diabetes.

“I like your drawing!” I told Steve the first time I entered his neatly kept room.  The walls were decorated with pictures he had drawn. There were also books, posters, a collection of music CDs, and videos.  I learned later that Steve wrote poetry. 

Art, reading, music... food for the soul, I was amazed. That was a unique room. Steve was a distinctive resident. 

Over a year I had the opportunity to follow Steve. He was a very delightful and polite man. These qualities were not enough for some other people to have sympathy or to feel some compassion.  

“He is getting more attention than anyone else!”  a resident exclaimed once.

It took time to make others understand that even if Steve was younger than most of the residents, the complexity of his medical condition made him frail and feeble.  Steve fainted and had to be rushed to the hospital a few times. 

I learned later that the nursing home was not the only battlefield in Steve’s life.  The nursing home was perhaps the easiest one.  Steve’s childhood was marked with sad events, starting when he lost his mother at age twelve.  Tired of living in a home where abuse, alcohol and drugs were part of the daily routine of his father and stepmother, Steve moved out at age sixteen. 

Life for him was not better on the streets.  For the next three years, Steve was involved in drugs, alcohol and theft.  His hot temper led him into physical fights, with his life in peril a few times.  The loneliness of being homeless, and later the bitterness of jail time made Steve touch the bottom of misery.  One person, only one person, came to jail to visit Steve during his nine-month sentence: his church Pastor.   Steve  attended  the Baptist church on and off.  Eventually, his only light became his faith.  With the mentoring of his pastor, Steve’s spirituality started to give him strength.  And more importantly, hope. 

Steve earned his GED, and with help of his Pastor, enrolled at Baptist Bible College. This is how Steve describes this chapter of his life:

“I was kind of worried about starting school so late in life, being 24 at that time, but I was also scared because I knew that I had trouble in high school trying to pass any of my classes. These fears and worries didn’t  last long.  I actually loved school and was interested in everything I was learning.  I was able to find a part of me that I never realized ever existed.  I was on the National Dean’s List almost every year that I was there.  It was after two years of school that I realized what God wanted me to do. I was to get a Masters in Counseling so that I could help people who were dealing with things in their lives that I had gone through in mine.” 

After graduating, Steve lived with his brother and continued his involvement with church activities.  At church, he met a woman who later became his wife.  After two years of marriage, Steve started to experience serious health problems.  Steve was diabetic since age nine.  This condition was never a concern for him or anyone in his family.  Now Steve was suffering the consequences.  As Steve’s health deteriorated, his wife started to have an affair with another man.  Steve attempts to convince his wife to go through counseling and save their marriage were unsuccessful.  One day his wife came to him, and told him she was pregnant with her lover’s baby and she wanted the divorce. 

As Steve’s marriage failed,  so did his kidneys.  Steve’s life went into another phase:  the nursing home resident.  He had no other option but be in a facility where he could have twenty-four hour care.  Although Steve resided in nursing homes for eight years, he never gave up on his hope of getting his health back, and going back to the community.  Now Steve needed a kidney transplant. 

“During all the many surgeries and sicknesses I went through during the eight years of dialysis and living in nursing homes, I had never lost my faith in God.  If anything, I would have to say my faith grew stronger for the simple reason that God had pulled me through things that I was watching other patients die from on a regular basis, things that my doctors themselves never thought that I’d survive.  I had however, given all of my health problems over to God and told Him that I accept the fact that He is in control and that I was ready to leave this world at any time if He was ready to take me.  It was only then that I stopped fearing death and accepted that eventually it comes to everyone.”

In the meantime, Steve had kept a close relationship with his brother. Now a Pastor, his brother was also his spiritual mentor and main support.  In later years, their father was terminally ill.  Steve started to visit his father and for first time share the love of father and son that never was expressed in the past. Their bond was brief, as Steve’s father passed away soon after their reencounter. 

I left the facility where Steve resided, and learned that he also left soon after that.  His health stabilized enough that he was able to move into an apartment, and live as independent as possible. Yet he had to continue his dialysis, with great deal of uncertainty as he received shocking news:

“I was told after several surgeries and attempts to fix my vascular problem, that I had no more good veins in my body that would be strong enough to use and withstand my dialysis treatments.  My vascular surgeon told me that I had nothing left that would be strong enough to work with.  I was at the end of my rope.”

Against all odds his faith and willpower endured. 

“It was after my final graft failed and my options had run out that I contacted my transplant center and asked them what my chances of getting a kidney were.  I had been told two years prior to this that I would most likely never get a transplant due to having a high antibody level in my blood.  I had already been on the transplant list for six years and had several calls to receive transplants but so far every time I went to the hospital I was sent back home because of the antibody level being too high.  At this point, I needed a miracle.”

And Steve’s prayers were answered. On July 16, 2010 Steve received a call from the transplant center.  When he arrived, he was immediately admitted.  Lab work was done quickly.

“The results had come back and they were all good, the operation was going to happen. The excitement, as well as shock, set in at this time.  I asked if they could wait a few minutes for my family to get there, and I was told no, it had to happen now.  I started praying and thanking God.”

Curious about why this transplant surgery was going to work, and where the organs were coming from, Steve asked the doctor about the donor.  The surgeon simply explained that the donor was a twenty-year old healthy man who had a seizure that put him in a comma.  After determining that the young man’s brain was dead, the family decided to take him off of life support, and asked that his organs be harvested and donated. 

“The surgeon told me that they held those organs for me specifically because the match was perfect, and that the donor had antigens in his blood which would counteract the high antibody levels in my blood. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was a miracle.”

Steve’s humble heart felt for his young donor.  His reflections never stopped:

“I felt bad for the young man who was only beginning his life and ended up losing it and donating his organs to someone who had already lived and brought his health issues on himself.  Because of this man’s death I was given a second chance at life.”

Steve’s family arrived right at the time he was being wheeled to the operation room.  Steve got to share a few minutes with them.  He was now ready.

Steve underwent kidney and pancreas transplant that lasted a little over five hours. The operation was successful and he recovered quickly.  It has been five months since the surgery.  Steve is now diabetes-free and dialysis-free. 

Steve had recently visited the dialysis center to see the staff who took care of him for years.  One of the nurses became tearful and told Steve that “no one has ever come back after having a transplant to show their appreciation for what we have done for them.”  And to his surprise, Steve was offered a job at the dialysis center.  A job that he describes as: “doing the same treatments that were done on me that helped keep me alive long enough to receive my transplant.  They believe I can relate to the patients, trying to encourage them at a point in life when there seems to be no hope.  I look forward to doing this.”

I was speechless when I saw Steve’s photos, as it had been two years since the last time I saw him at the nursing home.  I was tremendously touched at learning about his new life, about the miracle of “a second chance at life” as he describes it.  Steve, once my resident, now my friend, is one of the most inspiring persons in my life. 

Happy, blessed and glorious New Year, Steve! 


Karin said...

What an awesome story - a miracle! All glory to God!

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh Doris, you never cease to amaze me with your stories. I thought for sure this would have me in tears by the end, and I was. From happiness.

You are surely the most gifted story-teller I have ever met. Thank you.

Happy Happy New Year, Doris and Steve!!!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow! Now that is an incredible story. Steve has what so few ever get - a second chance at life.

DUTA said...

Great story narrated in a very gifted way. The story about Steve has all the 'ingredients' of a powerful drama with a happy ending.
Steve's picture is "worth a thousand words".
Thank you Doris for bringing it to us.

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,

That is an incredible story! So glad it worked in the end for Steve and that he got close to his Dad before he passed away! Sure he can support far better than any 'trained' person; as he's lived the life those patients are going through!

Have a blessed 2011!

Mariette's Back to Basics

Warren Baldwin said...

What an amazing, amazing story! And a great one for a new year!

I would like to use part of this on a radio program if you don't mind.


Mary Aalgaard said...

That is an incredible story. It says so much for hope, faith, and life. It is also a testimony for organ donation. Thank you!

Padraic Murray said...

Lovely, humbling, powerful, inspiring!
Thanks Doris.
Have a great two-eleven! P

LeighSW said...

What an incredible story! God is so good. I'm glad Steve is now using his life experiences to help others.

Amrita said...

Sreve is a true inspiration - his life a powerful witness For God.

Happy New Year

cyclopseven said...

God is answering prayers.

Bobbie said...

This story is just too beautiful! What a blessing Steve is... and what a wonderful work God is doing in his life. Thank you for sharing this, Doris. A true blessing. bobbi

floweringmama said...

What an amazing story to begin a new year. Thank you for sharing. I always enjoy reading your blogs.

David Edward said...

thank you for your blog. it helped me when I was caring for my mom. She passed away on Dec 27. we rejoice at her life, here, and continuing in Heaven. You have blessed us with this blog.

Just Be Real said...

Awesome and incredible. Wow. Blessings to you Doris.

none said...

What a wonderful story with a happy ending. Faith is the most important thing in my life as well. I enjoyed reading this miracle. Even when times are difficult, faith allows us to wait it out and remember our purpose without fear.

DEZMOND said...

amazing story Doris as always! Wishing you and all the good people in the world great New Year!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great story!!! Thanks for sharing! :D

Jules said...

I knew yesterday I needed to wait to read this and I am glad I did. What a remarkable story and yes inspiring. With all that modern medicine can do... I still believe in the miracle of prayer. :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

Oh girl, this is one amazing story that truly touched my heart. What a miracle Steve and his donor are. God is good.

Isn't it great to meet someone especially when you thought you'd never seem 'em again.

I have some success stories from my Special Ed class and I just love when I get to see 'em again.

God bless you sweetie, you touch so many lives.

Have a terrific New Year!!! :o)

Arlee Bird said...

It's so good to hear this story has a happy ending. I too had a friend named Steve who spent much of his life abusing his body and ended up in a nursing home diabetic and with both legs amputated. He died a couple of years ago at age 55. It was a tragic waste of a life.


Toyin O. said...

What an awesome story, thanks for sharing:)

Terri Tiffany said...

I love this story~!! Congrats on the news of being published!! Every one of your stories touches the heart and that is what readers love.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Steve's story is amazing. There is always hope when we think there is none.

Lorette said...

Truly a miracle for this man...I work as a dialysis/renal social worker and this case sounds so familiar except most do not have this wonderful ending.
Now, if you have any contact with him please tell him to take care of his kidney by always taking his medications ( anti-rejection). After a certain amount of time Medicare will stop paying for them so he needs to let his transplant social worker know if he has any problems paying for his meds. The transplant social workers can help patients get the meds that they need. Patients are very proud and I have seen recipients lose kidneys because they did not make their needs known.

Bica said...

What a wonderful and inspirational story. At the beginning, I never thought it would have a happy ending. I love to read your posts - my daughter is a social worker in a nursing home, and I sometimes share your stories with her. Have a very Blessed New Year!

Asia said...

Hello, I found your blog and like it. I am a college student majoring in social work. I am currentlty looking for grad schools. I have a social work talking my senior year of internship and my social work classes. Please follow social blog at http://swktalk.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Doris, I just wanted to say that the way you wrote my story is amazing. You did a great job. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I get pretty emotional every time I think of all the things that I've gone through in life anyway.
I also wanted to say that God is the way to get through anything you're facing. If you have no faith or something to give you the confidence that things will get better you'll be knocked out before the fight even begins. God is love, strength, and full of mercy and grace. It is only through Him that I am here today. Everything happens for a reason. We may not know what that reason is right now and may not ever know but God has a reason for letting us bear the burdens we bear. He will not give you more than what you can handle though, so never give up hope and always have faith.
Thanks Doris and congratulations on being published.

Steve Wright....

Cloudia said...

Thank you for this amazingly uplifting story that inspires me richly!

Warmest Aloha from Hawaii

Comfort Spiral



Nikki (Sarah) said...

Steve's story is a miracle....I love this story. thanks so much for sharing it.

Talli Roland said...

What a fantastic story, and so uplifting. Thank you so much for sharing!

Ann said...

What a wonderful story of triumph over adversity. Truly wonderful. Makes one count their blessings in more ways than one. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an incredible story. It's amazing how much suffering some people have to endure. And now, he will help others. His words, his thoughts and his prayers are special because he has lived through it all. Beautiful story, love the happy ending.

A Plain Observer said...

I believe in miracles, I've seen miracles, but Steve's story is not only a miracle, but a story of hope. Good things can still happen even at the end of the rope

Anonymous said...

Doris: Your stories are so inspirational. This is one of the best. Congratulations on the awards you blog has received. It is easy to see why.

What an inspiring man Steve is, a great human being, full of determination and, most importantly, gratitude. He knows how blessed he is; and he, in return, is a blessing to others. I'm filled with such positive feelings when I hear stories of people like him. The media feeds us mostly stories of disaster. We need stories about the quiet heroes like Steve who, if we look around us, are our friends and neighbors! People who struggle with adversity and overcome their afflictions. Such great examples of courage!!

Angel said...

Working in "nursinghomes, And skilled rehabs" I too have experienced individuals of all ages. Sometimes their outcomes are wonderfull, and some end not so well. There is nothing like having the blessing of being involved in there recovery/destination. I am sure you experience stress in your position, visit my site and post some of your experience. Thx

Kittie Howard said...

WOW! What an awesome story. I've got goose bumps. Thank you for sharing and I hope Steve's live is forever a tribute to the young donor wihin.