Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: Marking a life-changing anniversary

This week marks the 15th anniversary of my kidney transplant. 15 years, if you can believe it. It’s not that I don’t think about the transplant on each anniversary — and every single day for that matter — but this anniversary was more emotional than most.

I began a new podcast last month called “She Persisted” and dedicated an entire show to talking about the transplant and what I’ve learned this last decade-and-a-half. Very much a stream of consciousness, the hour brought back some memories about that time I had honestly forgotten as the current of my life sped up with a healthier body.

One such memory was of a woman I was in dialysis with. Having to undergo this procedure for a year leading up to the transplant, I went on the dialysis machine for three hours every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday during the middle of the day. I don’t know the name of the woman who had the same shift as I, and never really had a conversation with her, but would notice when she came in with bruises on her face.

One session, I overheard the nurses and technicians explain to her that if she didn’t get out of the situation she was in, she would die. She assured them she had simply walked into a door, or some other seemingly typical excuse to deny a domestic abuser, and I could see the defeat in the eyes of the staff. After I had my transplant and was home under quarantine, I got word that that woman had indeed died. I remember being grief-stricken and lit a candle in my home in her honor. The sadness was mixed with survivor’s guilt — how could two women fighting the same disease come to such different ends?

Then there was a man who served as my first mentor in the confusion of learning I had a life-threatening disease. He was a manager at one of the restaurant chains in town and was a liver transplant recipient. We had lunch in Buckhead and he opened my eyes to the reward that lied ahead with a transplant. No more food restriction. No more energy-depleting dialysis. No more feeling like you were constantly on the verge of taking the plunge into a dark space you feared you’d never return from. At the end of our lunch, he explained that he was about to have a second liver transplant, that his Hepatitis had been the cause of his first liver failure and now was the cause of the second. A few months later, I got the call that he died during the operation.

These reminders made me realize my determination to live my life as I had never lived it before with a new kidney. Doing so was not only for me but for those who didn’t make it as far as I, and I couldn’t and still can’t take this gift from my cousin Pam for granted. I am too aware of how things don’t work out to waste the borrowed time.