Hope Conquers All: A Young Man’s Transplant Journey
by Patrice Chamberlain
“It’s never too late to lead a normal life. But you have to take care of yourself and never lose hope.” This advice comes from kidney-pancreas recipient Damon Wright, speaking from hard-earned experience. Damon’s is not the typical coming-of-age story but is one of hope, determination and ultimately a new beginning.
Reaching Rock Bottom
Now 35 years old, Damon was 15 when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Just as most teenagers are asserting their independence, the twice-a-day insulin shots and circle of adults telling Damon what to eat and avoid were met with rebellion. Damon continued to disregard his condition until it obscured his eyesight and weakened his body to the point he could not urinate and his kidneys began to fail. His health continued to worsen during multiple moves between San Jose and the Central Valley. Soon, Damon was on dialysis three days a week.
“I felt like a car that just runs and runs until it runs itself into the ground,” says Damon about how he felt while on dialysis. “I had no energy and felt so thirsty that my fluid levels would end up off-balance. I’d often have to do a fourth day of dialysis and sleep all day on my days off.” Damon also feared he would eventually lose circulation in his legs and end up wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. By this time Damon had also become legally blind.
Reason for Hope
Seeing the emotional, physical and financial toll taken by his diabetes, Damon was determined to create a better life for himself. He became more diligent about following the advice of his medical team and started taking better care of himself. Determined to strengthen his legs, Damon started walking daily while holding his wheelchair, with the help of his father.
That’s when his nephrologist, Luis Alvarez, M.D., at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, contacted California Pacific’s Kidney Team and Damon was added to the transplant waiting list following a medical evaluation. After four years on dialysis, Damon never lost hope that a better life was on the horizon.
Ultimately, Damon started receiving calls about potential donor matches. Unfortunately, three trips to San Francisco were met with the discouraging news that he was not a match or the pancreas was not suitable. “I never lost hope but I wondered how many more times I’d have to go through this,” reflects Damon. But finally, it happened. On March 27, 2007, Damon received an early morning call that a possible kidney and pancreas match had been found.
The prospect of major surgery and an uncertain future can overwhelm even the most battle-hardened spirit. Damon credits Steven Katznelson, M.D. and the team at California Pacific Medical Center for making him feel at ease. “The nurses were always available when I needed them and my doctors answered all my questions. They made me feel like I was family.”
A New Beginning
Damon’s surgery was a success but minor complications kept him in the hospital for several weeks. No longer in need of insulin shots or dialysis, Damon was ready for a new beginning. “God gave me a second chance at life and I am going to make the best of it,” says Damon.
Fast forward to 2010, Damon maintains a healthy diet and walks regularly with the help of a trainer. He is contemplating career options while he attends college. His 4.0 grade point average earned him an invitation to join his college’s Phi Theta Kappa honor society and an award for outstanding academic achievement. He also takes time to share his story, giving hope to those living with diabetes or on dialysis. Throughout this journey, Damon’s steady determination, tenacity and optimism have enabled him to achieve this fresh start and inspire others.
article from Fall Winter 2010 Kidney Review newsletter