Double Transplant

Sherrell Gay Receives the Gift of Life Just in Time to Witness New Life

Sherrell Gay, Double Transplant Patient

Sherrell Gay

If you remember reading about kidney transplant recipient Ken Sutha and his participation in the U.S. Transplant Games, you might also remember reading about Sherrell Gay, who received her heart at the Emory Heart Transplant Center and also participated in the games. In fact, Sherrell celebrated the 8-year anniversary of her transplant procedure during the Games’ closing ceremonies.

Although Sherrell (who’s originally from Waynesboro, GA) received her first heart transplant a decade ago, for the past 18 months, she has been on the waiting list for another heart due to allograph vasculopathy, a fairly common long-term complication from heart transplant. Allograph vasculoplasty is known more commonly as chronic rejection, which can develop in transplanted hearts at any time – soon after transplant or many years later. The small vessels in the heart become blocked first and as the disease progresses, the larger vessels can become blocked too. “I was diagnosed with allograph vasculpathy at my 7 year annual post-transplant appointment,” Sherrell recalls. “I was treated with medication for 1 ½ years and then the team decided the disease had progressed too far to benefit from drug therapy and I needed to be evaluated for another heart transplant.”

Both throughout her first heart transplant journey and while Sherrell was hospitalized for a portion of 2012, her kidney function continued to decline. “As my wait time continued, my kidney failure worsened, as did my heart function,” Sherrell recalls. Emory’s kidney transplant team was asked to consult on her case, and they concluded that after Sherrell had spent 10 years on immunosuppressants and her kidney function was in decline for almost a decade, her kidneys were in end stage kidney failure. They added Sherrell to the kidney transplant waiting list, knowing that the other option was a potential lifetime on dialysis following her next heart transplant.

Thankfully, Sherrell was contacted about her waiting list status and learned she would be receiving her new heart and two kidneys from the same organ donor. “On the day I got the call there were organs matched for me, I had to start emergency continual dialysis. The organs became available at just the right time,” she says, and “by doing both organs from the same donor, I stood a better chance at successfully living healthy.”

On December 9, 2012, Sherrell received her successful double organ transplant and is now recovering and doing well. Dr. Duc Nguyen performed her heart transplant first, and Dr. Paul Tso performed her kidney transplant immediately after.

While Gay spent much of 2012 at Emory, this mother of two daughters and one son never missed a chance to help cheer up and educate other candidates and recipients and families about the transplant process from her bedside, except, of course, when she was most sick. (At the worst point, she suffered two heart attacks and was placed on emergency peritoneal dialysis.) If such a thing were awarded, Gay would win the Oscar for the Best Advocate Ever for Organ Transplantation.

“I am extremely grateful for my donor family who made the decision to make that donation of life — we got the best gift that day,” says Gay, who also helps lead the Georgia Transplant Foundation Mentor Project.

We are very glad to hear about Sherrell’s remarkable recovery and send her best wishes on her continued recovery and on the upcoming arrival of her first grandbaby. Thanks to her double organ transplant, Sherrell is now well enough to be by her daughter Tracy’s side when she gives birth at the end of March.

The gift of life just in time to witness the gift of a new life; now that is a transplant miracle.

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Celebrating the Gift of Life – Donate Life Month

Since 2003, April has served as National Donate Life Month and provided the health and transplant communities with an entire month of local, regional and national activities to help support and raise awareness around organ donation and celebrate those who have given the gift of life to others by donating. We’ve seen some amazing gifts of generosity here at Emory since National Donate Life Month last year, and in honor of the month, we’d like to celebrate those members of our community who have truly given of themselves in an effort to save the lives of others.

Pamela Emory Employee Living Donor

Pamela Lesane

We kicked off Donate Life Month last year with the help of Pamela Lesane, an Emory Healthcare employee and now patient, after making a very generous gift to her own sister. After beginning her career with Emory Healthcare in Guest Services, Pamela came into contact with a transplant coordinator who asked her if her sister, who had suffered from kidney disease all her life, had ever been evaluated for a transplant. She had not, so Pamela helped her push forward in getting evaluated and her sister was placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. It turned out Pamela would be a match for her sister’s transplant, and the rest is history. You can read more on Pamela’s story here.

Shortly after Pamela was able to help bring renewed life to her sister via organ donation, six lives at Emory were saved by as a result of a selfless donation from one man, Jon Pomenville, from Anderson, South Carolina. Imagine waking up one morning in good health and deciding out of the goodness of your heart to donate your kidney to someone you didn’t even know – anyone, anywhere. That’s exactly what Jon did and he wasn’t looking for credit. In fact he was completely comfortable with remaining anonymous throughout the process. But during a follow-up visit to Emory University Hospital, Jon met many of the individuals whose lives he helped change – right there in the transplant clinic waiting room. Jon and four of the other donors and recipients in what is referred to as a paired kidney transplant were coincidentally scheduled for follow-up appointments within a short period of time of one another. It was only a matter of minutes before the patients – recipients and donors – two father and son combinations and Jon, the man who would give to anyone – were hugging, shaking hands, and recounting their lives and experiences. As one person began recounting the experience, eyes and ears began to focus on the tale being told from across a crowded room. Share Jon’s story.

Lester Crowell

Lester Crowell

Many of our transplant community members are recipients of organ donations themselves and have opted to find ways to give back to others in need. Lester Crowell, is a fantastic example of an Emory Transplant patient who took giving back to a whole new level. Lester is a two-time recipient of a donated heart, and as a heart transplant patient, he shared the love in a major way by holding an event to help raise awareness and over $30,000 for the Georgia Transplant Foundation. Check out Lester’s story in this video and blog post.

Kevin Jordan Wake Forest Kidney Transplant at Emory

Coach Tom Walter & Kevin Jordan

We’ve seen family members give to family members, anonymous givers donate life to change the lives of others, and a transplant patient who gave back to the community, but one story, that of Kevin Jordan and Coach Tom Walter of Wake Forest University was an especially touching one for us here at Emory. In February of 2011, we shared Part I of their story. To bring you up to speed, Kevin was diagnosed with ANCA vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder that typically leads to almost immediate kidney failure. At the time, Kevin was an all-star baseball player being actively recruited by both Wake Forest University (WFU) and Auburn, but he was faced with an illness that could potentially change his future not only in baseball, but in life. Kevin opted to join the crew at Wake Forest, but as his condition worsened, it became clear to both Kevin and Coach Tom that something would need to be done. Kevin was in desperate need of a new kidney, and when neither his mother nor father met matching criteria to serve as a living donor, Coach Tom volunteered to be tested as a match. A match he was, and the story is pretty much a fairytale from there. Just months after joining the Wake Forest crew, Kevin and his coach would share a lifelong bond, making them family both on and off the field. In October of this year, just 7 months later, Kevin was able to return to practice at the sport he loves thanks to the generous gift of Coach Tom. Share their story here.

Clay Taber, Transplant Patient with Nurse Allison Batson

Clay Taber & Allison Batson

The giving back here at Emory continued when just a few months ago, our own transplant nurse, Allison Batson, gave of herself, literally, to 23-year-old patient, Clay Taber, who was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. “Immediately when Clay came onto our unit, he became a special patient that everyone just gravitated to,” said Allison Batson. “Here was this young man with everything in his life ahead of him, and he was fighting for his life. He quickly became friends of many of the staff, and really was just a tremendous inspiration to us all.” Allison continued to visit with Clay during his weeks at the hospital, and a deeper connection began to form than the typical nurse-patient bond. “She said ‘If you’ll let me do this, I want to donate my kidney to you,” Clay recalls. “Something at that point just hit me. There are so many people in need of an organ transplant and have been waiting like me – even longer than me in many cases. And here is Allison offering to do this amazing thing. When she said ‘If you’ll let me,’ there was just something in those words. I couldn’t say no.” Share Allison and Clay’s story here.

We are so grateful to the steps that have been taken by the Emory transplant community to celebrate and give the gift of life. Countless lives are changed at the Emory Transplant Center every year because of selfless gifts of those in our community. In honor of Donate Life Month, we will help to spotlight some of these very special stories in the weeks to come. If you have your own story to share, or just want to give thanks to those here who have given the gift of life, please use the comments section below.

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For Emory Transplant Patient, Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

David Duncan, Emory transplant patient

David Duncan

David Duncan has many reasons to be thankful this holiday season. He recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of his kidney and pancreas transplants, and both organs are functioning with no signs of rejection. He no longer needs debilitating dialysis treatments thanks to the kidney transplant and is free from the insulin he had to take from the time he was diagnosed with diabetes at age 12 to age 39, when his pancreas transplant cured his unstable disease. But he is most thankful to the donor family who gave him a second chance at life.

“My surgeons left me with something else, too—a funny bone,” he says, cracking one of his many jokes. David has made it his life’s work as a minister, telling humorous, inspirational stories to children, and as a motivational speaker for LifeLink with the motto, “Any day above ground is a good day.”

“I went into Emory for a kidney transplant, and there must have been a two-for-one sale. I ended up with a pancreas, too,” quips David, who is 54. “I have a brand new life. The transplants lifted me out of the grave.”

Before his transplants in 1996, he was in renal failure, on dialysis and at the point that his nephrologist in Macon said he might not survive much longer without a kidney transplant. He was on Emory’s waiting list for six months before receiving a donor kidney and pancreas “from a pre-teenage girl who gave me a second chance.”

He pauses and remembers the extraordinary gifts from his donor family, “My chair is filled, but the chair for that family is empty. But they changed my life and it’s my mission to give hope to children of all ages,” says David, who serves as a chaplain for homeless, orphaned abused or neglected children.

“David is the kind of guy you love to have around,” wrote a former colleague, Pastor Bob Price, in a letter about David to the ETC. “He just makes you feel better. If someone asks him how he is doing, he might say something like, ‘If I were any better, I’d be twins!’”

There are a couple of things that could’ve dampened David’s positive attitude: He’s also a double amputee. Complications from the diabetes had left him with foot ulcers and poor circulation in his legs, which led to the amputation of one leg six years ago and the other a year later.

David and his wife, Shirley, have three daughters and three grandsons. “I don’t allow them to take care of me. I have no limitations. I’m active, watch my weight and take care of my own health—I am intentional about my meds and my life’s purpose,” he continues. “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.”

David writes notes each year at this time to his surgeons, Drs. Chris Larsen and Thomas Pearson, to thank them for their care. He also takes time to thank all the others at Emory who have cared for him over the years, from the front desk receptionists who are always so friendly, to the nurses, phlebotomists and doctors.

“It’s all about teamwork—they have no idea how inspiring they are,” he says. “We can’t take them for granted. Life is a gift, and it is up to each one of us to unwrap it and use it to serve others.”

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Good Things Come in Twos (x2!) for Henry County Woman

Over five years ago, Kerry King felt very sick with prolonged episodes of nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and swelling.  She visited a community-based medical clinic, but her blood pressure was so high, they sent her to a local hospital where where she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart.

After her diagnosis, an ambulance rushed Kerry to Emory University Hospital where she was admitted to an intensive care unit and diagnosed with a rare lung disorder, primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH.) PPH is characterized by increased pressure in the pulmonary artery, whereby the pulmonary artery carries oxygen-poor blood from the lower chamber on the right side of the heart to the lungs where it picks up oxygen.

After a heart catheterization and battery of other tests, Kerry was discharged from Emory University Hospital and returned home to Henry County with around-the-clock intravenous medication to mange the symptoms. On medication 24/7 for nearly five years, Kerry was forced to live a very limited lifestyle. Daily tasks became a major challenge, “I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to the bedroom at night – my husband carried me.” Trips to the hospital became more frequent and it became clear something had to be done.

Two days after Christmas in 2009, Kerry was placed on a lung transplant list at Emory, for not just one, but a double lung transplant. With her condition worsening by the day and after being informed she had about six weeks to live, all she could do was wait. And with nearly 2,000 people in the U.S. currently awaiting a lung transplant, finding two lungs for Kerry’s transplant had the potential to pose a serious barrier in saving the life of this Hampton, GA native.

Less than a month later, the good news came, and now, Kerry counts herself among the most lucky to have found a double lung transplant in time to save her life. Today, just over a year removed from her life-transforming experience, Kerry counts her lucky charms in the gifts that surround her each day, her twin sons, Justin and Austin, and the second chance at life she has thanks to her transplant that took place at Emory University Hospital.

After months of rehabilitation, Kerry returned home from the hospital.  That night, Kerry was enjoying her family and when bedtime for her twins came around, her son Justin went to the stairs and called to his Daddy to complete the only nightly routine he remembered in his young life, “Daddy, it’s time for you to carry Mommy upstairs.”   But on this night, for Kerry, those stairs were no longer a challenge.

Emory Transplant Program Milestone – 300 Lung Transplants

For a young mother of two teen-aged sons, living life attached to an oxygen tank is not an ideal situation. For Jo Ellen Kimball, 40, however, this was the life she had grown accustomed to living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a condition that essentially turns the lungs to stone. As Jo Ellen’s physician and Medical Director of Lung Transplantation at Emory Transplant Center, Dr. Clinton Lawrence puts it, “Imagine trying to breathe through lava rock every day of your life.” The five-year survival rate of IPF is less than 20% and as of now, lung transplantation is the only known treatment.

Since September 17th, however, Jo Ellen’s outlook on life and future has changed drastically. It was on this day that she underwent her double lung transplant at Emory University Hospital.

After the procedure, Jo Ellen was able to regain her ability to breathe on her own after only nine days, a remarkable achievement. And after six years of life spent facilitated by an oxygen tank, Jo Ellen Kimball can now return to a normal life and possibly even return to her position as a fourth grade teacher.

As if this positive momentous life change for Jo Ellen wasn’t enough, she was also informed that her procedure resulted in even further celebration– Jo Ellen’s procedure was the 300th lung transplant performed by Emory’s Transplant Program (established in 1993).

Much like the journey Jo Ellen has experienced to free herself from the constraints of IPF, Emory’s lung transplant program has traveled quite a distance in reaching this milestone. The program is not a high-volume transplant program when compared to Emory’s other solid organ transplant programs. In fact, in 2009, 35 lung transplants were performed by the program, its most ever in a single year and a 300% increase from a decade before.

With generous donations and the help of doctors like Clinton Lawrence and Jo Ellen’s surgeon and Surgical Director of Lung Transplantation at Emory Transplant Center, Dr. Seth Force, the lung transplant program continues to grow and gain momentum.

“Emory has the only lung transplant program in the state,” notes Dr. Lawrence. “We provide a necessary and quality service to individuals from all walks of life from Georgia and surrounding states, including Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana.”

After a few weeks of recovery at Emory, Jo Ellen has since returned home to Conyers, GA to rest and recover with her family. We will be sure to keep you updated on her journey.