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Fundraiser set for Sunday for kidney transplant recipient

Kidney transplant recipent Trisha Smith (right), poses with her aunt, Nancy Vaske, along Worthington's Lake Okabena. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WILMONT -- When Trisha Smith’s name was moved to the active list for a kidney transplant, the Wilmont woman had a tough time accepting the designation.

‘I told my doctor, ‘I’m having difficulty being on the active list because I feel fine,’” she related. “‘I work two jobs. I have three grandchildren and I’m very active with them. I don’t feel sick.’

“My doctor said, ‘Well, your blood work shows that you are sick. You don’t know how you feel. You’ve felt like this all your life.’”

Now two months after receiving a new kidney, Smith knows the truth of that doctor’s words. She now realizes just how sick she really was and is experiencing the joy of a “new lease on life.”

“I feel 100 percent better,” she said. “I have so much energy. All those toxins are out of my body. It’s just so amazing. ... Everything is healthier now. My fingernails grow, my hair grows.”

Smith has been plagued with kidney difficulties since birth, but it wasn’t until she was 4 years old that doctors realized her kidney and bladder tubes were reversed.

“The urine would back up into my kidneys,” she explained. “I was a really sick child, would get really high fevers. They took me to the doctor, but they couldn’t find out what was wrong with me. My grandma finally said, ‘We’re taking her to the Mayo Clinic.’ By the time they found out what was going on and did a reconstructive surgery, my kidneys were scarred because of the urine reflux.”

Because of the scarring, Smith’s kidneys didn’t function properly and weren’t able to filter out the creatinine -- chemical waste molecules generated from musclemetabolism -- in her bloodstream.

“My creatinine stayed stable for a while, but as I grew older, it grew worse, so I started seeing a kidney doctor when I was probably about 28. It would fluctuate with medication, but it never got better.”

Eventually, it was determined that a kidney transplant was necessary. Smith was put on the inactive transplant list, and she began the rigorous testing necessary to be approved for a transplant.

“They check you out from head to toe to make sure nothing is wrong with you,” she said.

The one holdup in Smith’s case was the requirement of a deep dental cleaning, which took a while to complete through the Open Door mobile dental clinic. But eventually Smith finished the four-part process and was moved to active status.

It took only two months for a suitable match to be found; the wait time can be two to three years.

“They called me April 14 at 3:30 in the morning and said, ‘Get your blood work done. We think we’ve got a match,’” related Smith about the phone call that changed her life.

Her blood was dispatched to the Twin Cities for testing, and then she received a second call at 12:30 p.m., telling her to hightail it to Sioux Falls, S.D., for the transplant surgery. The transplant took place April 15.

Smith spent just four days in the hospital, having experienced a miraculous improvement in her bodily functions.

“When they put the kidney in, it started working immediately,” she said. “My creatinine went down to 0.75 right away.”

The debt of gratitude Smith feels for the donor and his family is overwhelming.

“The person that donated the kidney to me was a deceased 19-year-old donor,” she shared. “His parents kept him alive until all of his organs were donated. My social worker from the transplant center said that one 19-year-old helped 58 people.”

Throughout the donation process, Smith was able to lean on her family. She has two grown children, Ashlee and Brett, and three grandchildren, who bolstered her spirits throughout the ordeal. But her appointed support person was her aunt, Nancy Vaske of Wilmont.

“She has been a godsend,” credited Smith. “She’s retired, and I needed a support person to drive me back and forth, so she took on that role.”

Vaske was happy to be of service and is delighted in the differences she’s noticed in her niece since the transplant.

“She’s feeling so much better,” said Vaske, “and she doesn’t have that feeling of doom, not knowing if she’s going to get a kidney or if the kidney is going to last.”

With a new bounce in her step and a smile on her face, Smith is now back working. During the school year, she is a special education paraprofessional for District 518, and during the summer works as a custodian at Worthington High School. She is also employed at Ecumen Meadows, but has been on a casual status there since the transplant.

Having been on the receiving end of a transplant, Smith is a walking advocate for the importance of organ donation. She recently finished a three-page letter -- front and back -- that will be sent to the donor’s family through LifeSource, the organization that facilitates organ and tissue donations. Smith hopes that someday she can repay the generous gift, as she plans to have her own usable organs donated upon death.

To help Smith with the medical expenses incurred through the transplant process, as well as the ongoing need for expensive anti-rejection medications, family and friends have organized a fundraiser. A meal and raffle will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Wilmont Community Center. Donations are also accepted to the Trish Smith Transplant Fund at United Prairie Bank.

To learn more about organ donation, go to life-source.org .

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  

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