A Rare Double Birthday Gift – a Kidney and a Pancreas

TammyWhen Tammy Smith, a 48-year-old Dalton City resident, was diagnosed with diabetes at age 14, doctors weren’t certain what might have caused her illness.

“I remember the doctors were a little vague,” Tammy said. “I was told my diabetes could have been caused by a virus, or even a type of immune deficiency disease. It was just something I had to deal with.”

Fast forward about 30 years. Tammy grew up, married and had four children, one of whom passed away in childhood. She went through a divorce, then married a man with four boys of his own. Together, they raised their combined family in a little house in Dalton City. Everything seemed normal.  

But then, Tammy’s normal life was turned upside down.

“Several years ago, I started having problems with my eyes,” she said. “I saw a doctor who ordered some routine blood tests. The results came in, and that raised some questions about my kidneys. I was asked if I had something wrong with them. Of course I didn’t know; everything seemed fine to me.”

She was referred to a nephrologist and diagnosed with very low kidney function. She was told there was no expectation or hope for improvement. She was then referred to Bradford West, MD, a specialist in nephrology with Springfield Clinic and medical director of Memorial Pancreas and Kidney Transplant Program and Surgery Services.

Tammy was placed on the transplant list and waited. Things got worse. She became very tired and was lethargic all the time. During a routine check-up and evaluation, the transplant team discovered her pancreas was failing.

With two failing organs and her health in jeopardy, Tammy would be on the transplant waiting list for almost two years.

 Then, the call came.

“The nurse from Memorial’s transplant team called me on my birthday in February 2012,” Tammy said. “A kidney and a pancreas were available, and I needed to get to the hospital right away.”

Marc Garfinkel, MD, with SIU HealthCare and surgical director for Memorial Transplant Services, was Tammy’s transplant surgeon.

“He really made me feel comfortable about the whole process and was very genuine and caring,” she said.

Today, Tammy is no longer diabetic and says she has the energy of a teenager.

“I feel like I could live until 100,” she said. “I have no fear of dying like I did before my transplant surgery. And, to my donor family, thank you. It was a wonderful birthday gift and I am very appreciative.”

More information about Memorial’s Transplant 5k Run Walk and online registration is available at Memorial’s Transplant Services 5k Run/Walk.