H&F: Against All Odds

When
people see a bandage or a bruise, they often ask what happened.

When someone asks Everett Jackson what happened to his hand, he doesn’t have
just a story to tell. The black wrap that spreads from his wrist to his elbow is
a testimony about the gift of life.

Jackson, 36, is an author and a theology student. He has been undergoing
dialysis for seven years and has been on a kidney transplant wait list for two
years. “I just had to learn what my body can do and what it couldn’t, and just
accept it,” Jackson said.

While Jackson patiently awaited a miracle, Ronda Peterson, 47, an Edmond Public
Schools bus driver, watched a TV show about organ donations, and was shocked to
learn the disturbing statistics.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Health, more than 105,000 people
nationwide are waiting for an organ, eye or tissue transplant and more than
80,000 of them need a kidney. She also learned that more than 50 Oklahomans die
every year while on the waiting list. Since then, little by little, Peterson began
considering the possibility of becoming a living donor.

One evening at church while standing at the door, Peterson and Jackson started
talking. Jackson mentioned that he was on dialysis and that he hoped to receive
a kidney soon.

“He was all upbeat and happy about it,” said Peterson. “I looked at him and
said, well, if I’m a match, you can have one of mine.”

 

Jackson
was skeptical at first. Doctors advised him not to accept a kidney from a
person at church or a relative, because if they donate simply out of
compassion, they often change their mind right before surgery.

Peterson insisted on doing the tests. Against all odds, the results showed they
were a match. The transplant took place on February 15, 2010 and the surgery
went very well. Doctors said the kidney was working in less than an hour, while
in some cases it can take a couple of weeks.

 

Her
colleagues donated their sick time so Peterson could fully recover. “I work
with a bunch of very wonderful people,” she said. “It’s people helping people.”

“I have one kidney, he has one kidney, so I know he can feel just as good as I
do,” Peterson said.

 

Before
the surgery Jackson couldn’t have any food that contained potassium and he had
to watch the amount of liquid he drank. He and his wife were afraid that every
vacation they took could be their last. That’s all in the past now.

 

He
now has more time to spend with his family as they look forward to making
long-term plans. “It’s not just one life
that you’re changing. You’re changing someone’s whole perspective of life,
their kids, their family,” Jackson said.

 

Organ
transplants are expensive. The donors are completely covered by the recipient’s
insurance, but rehabilitation and anti-rejection drugs may cost up to $2,500
per month. Many patients stay on dialysis or stop the procedure and slowly die because
of the financial burden and physical pain. Jackson saw those scenarios
first-hand with other dialysis patients he met along his lengthy journey.

 

Jackson
had to take about 50 pills each morning during the first month after surgery.
“I hate to see the bills, but what else do I have? I’m not going to allow this
to fail.”

LifeShare supports organ donations in both life and death. Spokesperson Phil
Van Stavern said the kidney “is by and large, the organ of greatest need.” He urges
people to consider donating. The easiest way to become a donor is to indicate
it on your driver’s license by answering “yes” to the question; “Would you
like to be and organ and tissue donor?”

 

By
sharing their organs, Peterson and Jackson shared life and became a living
miracle.

Peterson wants to stress that by being a living donor, you can save not only
the life of the recipient, but you also open a spot on the waiting list for
another patient.

 

She was ready to donate anonymously to anyone, but Peterson
would have missed the personal connection of getting to know Jackson and his
family. “I feel like I have a new family,” she said. Jackson adds that by
knowing his donor, he has a person to call to say ‘thank you.’

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