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Nancy Watts – Kidney Transplant Recipient

After her second heart condition in January 2001, Nancy Watts of Fayette County couldn’t believe her ears.  The heart condition and high blood pressure had put such stress on her kidneys that they were destroyed and she would need to go on dialysis in order to live.

Nancy recalled that there were a group doctors and her family standing around her bed to deliver the bad news and to try and convince her that the only option for survival was dialysis. 

“Even though the kidney specialist said I would be dead in 9 or 10 days without treatment, I was refusing to have dialysis — but at that point, I was full of toxins and not thinking rationally.  I just knew I didn’t want to live that way however I decided I needed more information about it.”

Luckily, her family was able to convince her to have one or two treatments and then make a decision.  “After one treatment the poison was out of my body and I was rational again and although I was exhausted all I could think was, I want to live!”

Nancy underwent the surgery necessary to implant a catheter that would allow her to be connected to the dialysis machine.  After 3 months of treatment she returned to work full-time and went for her dialysis treatments after work. 

“I don’t think people realize how hard dialysis treatments are on your life and on your body.  I’ve always been an active person and now I was tied to a machine for 4 hours a day, every other day and you’re exhausted after treatments.  I was able to work but I was reaching the point where it was almost impossible.”

Nancy’s kidney specialist came to the dialysis center one day to tell her that her best chance of survival was to get on the transplant waiting list.  Nancy learned on Friday, January 10, 2004 that she had been given medical clearance and her name was added to the list.  “And now the miracle starts”, Nancy said.

Two days later in the middle of the night Nancy received a phone call from the University of Kentucky Transplant Center that a possible kidney was available.  Nancy was stunned.

“I told them, I think you have the wrong one.  I’ve only been on the list for two days and the average wait for a kidney in Kentucky is two years.  They told me I was the secondary candidate.  I learned that they call three people in who are a match to assure that at least one candidate is medically stable enough to endure the surgery.”

Nancy and her husband rushed to the hospital and to Nancy’s surprise, after multiple tests, the first candidate was ineligible and she was going to get the life saving transplant.

“At first, I wasn’t euphoric but instead I felt guilty knowing that on that day 9-11 people died waiting for a transplant plus someone else died and donated a kidney to me.”

This is a common reaction that many recipients experience, especially someone like Nancy who was on dialysis and actually knew many of the people in her county, young and old, who didn’t live long enough to receive a transplant.

“That’s when one of nurses came up to me and said, Nancy you have to remember that your donor made the decision to give the gift of life before they had the illness or tragedy that took their life.  I realized then that I couldn’t live for that person or the ones who didn’t live long enough to get a transplant but I could live in honor of them and make as many people as possible aware of the decision to donate live saving organs.”

That’s exactly what Nancy has done.  Several weeks after her surgery Nancy returned to work, contacted the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) and met with their education coordinator.  When the need arises she travels around the state of Kentucky with KODA’s education coordinator giving presentations to college and high school students and staffing the Information and Registry Booth at health fairs for companies, hospitals, colleges and other civic and organizational events.

“Here I didn’t think I’d live long enough to get a transplant.   It’s nothing short of a miracle and I’m thankful for it.  I just had to do something that made me worthy of it.”

Nancy also wrote to her donor’s family through the anonymous program sponsored by the organ procurement organization. 

“You feel such immense gratitude.  I just couldn’t thank them enough for extending the miracle of life for me.  I promised them I would live my life in a manner that they would be proud of the decision they made to give the gift of life.  Hopefully the new Kentucky Organ Donor Registry will bring this miracle, the gift of life, to many more individuals.”