Patient celebrates a “second birthday,” freedom from diabetes and dialysis and a new future

May 8, 2012

Type 1 diabetes and kidney failure are both devastating conditions on their own. Together, they can be overwhelming.

Yes, insulin and dialysis can keep patients alive. But with a strict diet, daily insulin injections, the rigorous routine of dialysis treatments and many complications make it very difficult to live life to the fullest – or for very long.

For some patients, a combined kidney-pancreas transplant can be a second chance at not only longer life expectancy, but a normal, more active life.  Barnes-Jewish hospital kidney-pancreas transplant patient Nelson Brake shared his experience with us on his first transplant anniversary – a date he calls his “second birthday.”

Nelson’s story

Today is the 1 year anniversary of my 2nd birthday!
Last year on this day, I was driven to St. Louis by Calvin Troy Burgess and Pamala Kay Burgess (married 2 days ago. I was a groomsman for Troy.)
They were tired (understandably after the long, late night drive) and needed to get to the hotel, sleep, then head back to Springfield (still thankful for their help).

I was excited about the whole experience and the direction my life had turned. The dream of being free from the grip of dialysis and the constant struggle with type 1 diabetes would soon become a reality.  I was to receive a kidney-pancreas transplant.

I was checked into Barnes-Jewish Hospital and waited. The waiting was excruciating. After about 6 or 7 hours since the phone call sending me on this journey, the excitement wore off. It had been replaced with doubts and fears. I was constantly told that there was a possibility that I might not actually have the surgery. There were still many tests to be performed but everything looked great so far and got only better as time passed. I had prepared myself for the possibility of not having the transplant, perhaps more than for actually having the transplant.

I remember the staff all being wonderful to me, but as the minutes passed by, I became more and more frightened. This is LIFE CHANGING, I thought. My identity was going to change. Would I be able to handle this? Would I ALWAYS remember to take the medications? How could I afford the medications?  Did I deserve the trust everyone was placing in me, including the family of my donor? It all started to seem overwhelming.

I kept my fears in check right up until I was in pre-op. I remember thinking many things. Some of which were: Will I survive? I am hundreds of miles from home, alone, what if I die?

I prayed and tried to find strength in the Lord. He knew how much I could take for just before I decided to get up and leave, LITERALLY, they knocked me out for the surgery. NO JOKE, I was terrified.

I made it through. I woke up hallucinating from the prednisone and was in a daze for a while. The nurses and techs were all amazing and lifted my spirits, helping me forget at times that I was so far from home. I recovered quickly. I was sent home spending only 9 days in the hospital for the actual transplant. Amazing.

I have had ups and downs in the past year, including a strange fever that sent me back to Barnes-Jewish for 15 days but it gave me the opportunity to see familiar faces.

Overall I am happy with the way I have taken care of myself and my new organs. I have struggled with many issues in my life, the biggest has been my own mortality. Now I am free of dialysis and insulin injections. I have been a little late with my meds twice, once because of the time change for daylight savings, the other because of a conversation with my son on the phone long distance.

My 2nd birthday has given me something I had lost, a future.
My son is 18 years old and graduates from high school this year. I am looking forward to spending more time with him than I had once thought probable.

Thanks to all of those that have helped me along the way, including Andrea Markwardt (my transplant coordinator & friend) the surgeons, doctors, nurses and staff at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the nurses and techs at Ozark Dialysis Services, my friends, family, my donor and their family, and God.

By Nelson Brake


Transplant coordinator tries to inspire her patients through action

March 22, 2012

Photo courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

If you saw Andrea Markwardt, RN, CCTN, now, especially when she’s working out, you’d never suspect she was once out of shape and overweight.

Andrea is a Barnes-Jewish Hospital kidney transplant coordinator. She works out in the BJC WellAware Center on Taylor Avenue under the watchful eye of trainer Brittany Tucker.

Markwardt says she felt bad urging her patients to eat healthily and exercise when she didn’t do either of those herself. Being a good example was one of the best ways to teach her patients, she says. 

Now, if you happen to catch Andrea in the gym, you’ll see her sweating as she swings kettle bells, kickboxes or does lunges. She looks extremely fit – and pregnant.

Yes, it’s possible to be both, says WellAware’s Tucker.

“I have a lot of people drop out once they get pregnant,” she says. “They don’t realize that if they workout properly, they don’t have to. And it can make delivery much easier.”

Markwardt and Tucker were the subject of today’s “How I Did It” feature in the Health section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read the story  for a dose of healthy inspiration.


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