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Sarah Wilson, left, is pictured with her organ donor's mother
Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson’s familiarity with organ transplants goes back to 1996, when she lost her son in a car accident. Her son was an organ donor and gave the gift of life to several others.

Wilson, of Mt. Sterling, Ky., became involved at the time with the Kentucky Organ Donor Affliliates and became a family liaison to the Transplant Games. Oddly, it was at the Games 10 years later in 2006 that Wilson began to realize a transplant was in her own future, as well.

Affected with Type I diabetes most of her life, Wilson knew that chances were good she could suffer from kidney failure at some point.

“I felt sick all weekend, but I didn’t want anyone else to know I was sick. I had a feeling I knew what it was, but I wanted to hear it from someone else,” she says.

Wilson’s doctor confirmed her fear on her return home: She was very close to kidney failure, and a combined kidney and pancreas transplant was in her future. She was tired, losing weight (at one point she was down to 112 pounds), and close to the point of having to go on dialysis.

Diabetic patients often receive transplants of both organs because the failure of the pancreas that destroys the patient’s own kidneys would likely damage any new organs, as well.

It was decided that Wilson would travel about four hours for treatment at The Ohio State University Medical Center’s Comprehensive Transplant Center, the closest Center of Excellence to her home.

By Jan. 4, 2007, Wilson was placed on the waiting list to receive the double organ transplant. By Jan. 12, she received her first call that organs were available, but unfortunately they did not turn out to be a good tissue match for her and she returned home.

But by mid-February she got the call again, and this time, had a successful surgery.

“I woke up in the recovery room, and I kept hearing the nurse say, ‘98, 96, 99,’ and I asked her why,” explains Wilson. “She said, ‘Honey those are blood sugars,’ and I just started crying. I hadn’t seen blood sugars like that in a long time.”

Wilson adds that she was nearly pain-free and felt ready to go home almost immediately. She did suffer a bout of rejection of her new kidney a few days later, but was ready to go home after a total of less than three weeks in the hospital.

Since her transplant Wilson says she hasn’t required a single shot of insulin, and can now eat things she’d never dreamed of.

“The first food they brought me was a big old brownie with icing on it, and I thought ‘Are these people crazy?’ They left it there for two days for me to look at!” Wilson relates. “I was scared, I thought my blood sugar would go up. Eventually, I ate a candy bar, and didn’t tell anyone. When I took my own blood sugar later, I was jumping up and down, yelling, ‘It is working!’ The whole thing just been a miracle,” she says.

Wilson, a travel agent, went back to work in April and says she’s been able to indulge her lifelong love of travel like never before. After her transplant in February, she went to Washington D.C. in July, Cancun, Mexico in September and Greece in December.

“I have not felt this good in a long time,” she says.

She’s also keeping in close touch with the Transplant Games, and for the first time, Wilson will be a participant herself. When the 2008 Transplant Games are held in in Pittsburgh, Pa., she will be in the bowling events.

Wilson was also delighted to be able to reach out to her donor’s family and has gotten to know the family well.

“She lost her son and I’d lost a son. We have a lot in common,” Wilson explains. “Our sons were alike, too. We e-mail each other now and talked for two and a half hours the day we met. She really has made this complete!”