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Barbara Oliver – Kidney Transplant Recipient


What would you do if you thought you had a cold with flu-like symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and fatigue?  Would you call in sick to work? Stay in bed for a few days?  This is exactly what Louisville native and life long resident Barbara Oliver did in 1988.

“At first I didn’t think anything of it.  I thought I had the flu.  I figured I was just stressed out from my job and from playing super mom at home.  I put everyone else first and just wore myself out.”

After being in bed for a few days Barbara went to see her doctor.   It was there that she learned her blood pressure was so high that she was at risk of a stroke and a routine test showed something was wrong with her kidney function.  After stabilizing her blood pressure, her doctor sent her to a kidney specialist, a nephrologist.

“I was shocked when the nephrologist told me I had Glomerulonephritis, a disease which stops your kidneys from removing waste and excess fluids from your body.  It is usually caused by a virus or it could be hereditary, which was my case, and I probably had it for years and years.  The problem is there usually aren’t any symptoms until you lose over 75% of your kidney function.”

For about a year Barbara’s doctors were able to control the progression of her disease with medication and a low protein diet which puts less stress on the kidney.  However, in late 1989 she learned that this was no longer working and that she would need to go on dialysis while she was being considered for a kidney transplant.

Barbara chose peritoneal dialysis which could be performed at home 4 times a day, 7 days a week.  No longer able to work, Barbara’s only job was to take care of her health and stay alive until a transplant could become available.

“I was put on the transplant waiting list a few months after I started dialysis.  They told me it could be a few weeks to 5 years before a transplant became available.  I had to set my mind to waiting so I wouldn’t be disappointed but every time the phone rang I would think, is this it?”

Barbara would be on the transplant waiting list for 7 months before she received the phone call that her life saving transplant was available.

“After one of my dialysis treatments I got dressed and ready to go over to a friend’s house when the phone call came about my transplant.  I asked the woman on the phone if this one was really for me and she said, ‘this one is yours.’”

Barbara called her husband at work to tell him the news and then she drove herself to the hospital.  With her husband by her side, Barbara waited anxiously until the next morning when she went into surgery.

“The surgery went well and my transplant started working immediately.  I was able to go home after 5 days but had to be readmitted to the hospital to have my anti-rejection medication adjusted.  They were able to juggle my meds and it remedied what was wrong.”

Barbara doesn’t know anything about her donor or her donor family.

“I send my donor family a note on the anniversary of my transplant and around the holidays to let them know how well I’m doing and that I’m eternally grateful for the gift they’ve given me.  It’s okay that I’ve never heard back from them.  People have different ways of grieving.  I just want them to know they’re in my prayers.”

Barbara’s transplant was 17 years ago and at the age of 68 Barbara is an active person in the community.  She is the founder of the volunteer group Second Chance at Life in Louisville as well as involved in her church as a volunteer, lector and she’s on several committees.

“When you get a transplant and a second chance at life you want to give back in some way so I helped form a volunteer group of recipients, donor families and anyone else who was interested in promoting organ donation.  We work with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) and Trust For Life at health fairs and by speaking to civic clubs, churches, and schools.  In 1997, Second Chance at Life even purchased a trailer to use for a float in the annual Derby Pegasus parade.  It’s so great to see the people whistle and cheer as we go by.”

She also proud to say she’s a grandmother of 6 wonderful grandchildren.  “I love them all but everyone knows that the 4 year old is Nana’s boy”, she says with a chuckle.  “I do get him in an awful lot of trouble.”

When asked if she could send out any message she wanted to the good people of Kentucky about organ donation she said, “Well, it’s not gonna hurt!  We don’t want it until you don’t need it.”