More than a Helping Hand

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 - 4:00 pm

More than a Helping Hand

For Division of Marine Fisheries staff, helping a co-worker is a daily occurrence, from holding a door for someone carrying a load to staying late to help meet a deadline.

On March 14, one employee gave more than a helping hand when Cindi Hamilton (pictured on the left) donated a kidney to Carol Littrell (pictured on the right).

Littrell, currently a part-time receptionist for the division, worked as an office assistant for the N.C. Marine Patrol for 33 years before retiring in 2012.

Hamilton is an administrative assistant in the Director’s Office.

Below are their stories in their own words.

 

A Life Changing Experience

By Carol Littrell

Twenty years ago, my sister was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, and was put on dialysis. I was the first one to test to be a donor for her, only to find out that I had kidney problems of my own and had the same rare disease.

I began seeing a nephrologist (kidney specialist) immediately and have been for the past twenty years. My nephrologist kept stating during my visits that I should not have to worry about going on dialysis or needing a kidney transplant. During these years, I ended up taking four different blood pressure medications to try to control my blood pressure. It remained somewhat under control until the beginning of 2016.

In April of 2016, my nephrologist decided to put me on a medication called Cytoxan which is a type of chemotherapy drug. This drug had been shown, in some cases, to slow the progression of the disease I had. I remained on the Cytoxan for more than nine months and had to deal with the side effects of this medication, which were nausea, weight loss and shortness of breath, among others.

During the same timeframe, I was also put on an extremely large dose of Prednisone which only complicated matters more.

Neither of these medications helped with my situation and my nephrologist made the decision to send me to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville for a transplant consultation. I met with the transplant team on Nov. 3. I went through many tests and had large amounts of blood work completed to find that I was a good candidate for a transplant.

During my visits to Vidant, I was told about the donor testing process. My husband was the first one to test, but, unfortunately, he was not a match. Most wait three to six years on the list before receiving a kidney.

Cindi Hamilton saw me taking my medication one morning at work and made the comment that she hoped that was candy. I explained to her that it was not. I told her about my health situation and she indicated that she was going to look into it further. There were very few people that worked at the division that knew of my health condition.

As a transplant candidate, I am not allowed to “solicit” individuals to be tested as a possible donor. I can tell them about the process and how it works and put them in touch with my transplant coordinator.

Cindi contacted the transplant coordinator and set up testing. We found that she was a perfect match to donate a kidney to me.

A kidney transplant was scheduled for March 14, after only four months from my initial transplant consult at Vidant.

When I awoke from my surgery, I could already tell a difference in the way I felt. I didn’t have to take any medication for pain, other than Tylenol, during my hospital stay or at home after the surgery – even with a 14-inch incision.

I am very thankful for Cindi and my Vidant transplant team for what they did for me. It has been a life-changing experience and I will always be grateful for my new and better life.

 

An Interesting Yet Very Difficult Experience

By Cindi B. Hamilton

When people heard that I was donating a kidney to my co-worker, Carol Littrell, their first response was, “Are you crazy? What are you thinking?”

For some strange reason, I felt it was important to be tested and I have always been at peace with my decision. I was on the Bone Marrow Donor list until I aged out and I always try to donate blood. I feel that if we can help someone else, then we should try to do that.

Donating a kidney was an interesting yet very difficult experience for me. The months preceding the surgery were full of tests – every test imaginable. The good news is that I learned I was in excellent health and had no serious medical conditions. Each test got the me closer to the next level of becoming a donor. I remember the day the doctor called and told me that I was 8 out of 10 points compatible with Carol (which is great) and all my tests came back perfect and now I could be a kidney donor. I felt a sense of relief and a feeling that “this is the right thing to do.”

After all the tests, came the process of meeting with the doctors, surgeons and specialists. Hours after hours of questions left and right. One of the doctor’s main concerns is that some patients experience a deep depression after surgery. They feel a sense of loss in losing an organ. So, a full day was set up for a session with a psychiatrist to make sure I have a stable mental attitude (obviously, I passed).

The transplant team at Vidant Medical Center wanted to schedule surgery quickly, but we learned Carol was having some upper respiratory problems and her red count was low. Her doctors wanted her to wait until June. Then in late February, we got a call and the transplant team and Carol’s doctor had agreed to move up the surgery date to March 14.

I never felt anxious about my decision – I was at peace with it despite all the cynics and disparaging comments. Family and friends really did not want me to undergo this surgery. I studied and read all the materials that Vidant provided about the surgery and recovery and I understood the risks involved.

I knew that the surgery was harder on the donor because they must go in through the front of the body and remove the kidney which is in the back. In doing this, the doctors move all the other organs around. In addition, the body has an adverse reaction to having an organ removed.

I thought I was prepared and knew exactly what to expect, but I was wrong.

When I woke up, the pain was unbearable for days. I had numerous complications and even ended up having to be readmitted back to Vidant. But the hardest part of the process was the recovery time. It is impossible to explain how exhausted I was for two solid months. All I did literally, was sleep.

Here I was someone who was physically in shape and use to exercising every day; yet, three weeks after surgery, I couldn’t even walk around the house by myself. And seven weeks later, I still was taking long naps throughout the day.

The other problem was trying to keep food or fluids down. All the medicine made me so nauseated that I couldn’t eat or keep water down for weeks. The recovery was the most frustrating part of the whole experience. It is a very slow healing process and one that requires patience and a lot of time.

Now, it’s wonderful to see Carol’s color look normal and to hear her say she really feels good again. Carol is not out of the woods yet. She still has a two-year rejection period, a higher chance for infections due to a low immune system and she has to go back to Vidant every other week for blood tests. She is, and will always be, on a large amount of medicine.

And me, yes, it is possible, in time, that my one kidney will fail and I will need a kidney transplant myself. But Carol and I don’t focus on the “what ifs” and “it coulds.” We are concentrating on today and each day as it comes.

It was a tough surgery but I truly believe it was the right decision for me, and I am so glad I did it for Carol.

Author: 
Cindi Hamilton and Carol Littrell