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Bonnie Anderson

It’s hard to find a more upbeat transplant patient than Bonnie Anderson. Through lifelong Type I diabetes, kidney and eyesight failure, two transplant surgeries and multiple orthopedic surgeries and bone breaks, the 47-year-old from Hilliard, Ohio has always got a joke on the tip of her tongue about it all.

“I joke that I have had enough organs in my body to be in the Guinness Book – two pancreases, three kidneys, and everything else I was born with,” she says with a laugh. “And they put all of these organs in me and I still lost weight!”

Anderson was diagnosed with Type-I Diabetes at age nine. As is often the case with diabetic patients, having two children, a son and a daughter in the late 1980s, strained her kidneys. But it wasn’t until 1999 that Anderson suffered renal failure and was placed on dialysis – and on the list for a kidney and pancreas transplant.

Diabetic patients are most often given a dual organ transplant because without treating the underlying diabetes by giving the patient a healthy new pancreas, new kidneys would also be destroyed by the disease. (confusing)

After 18 months on dialysis, Anderson’s eyesight suffered due to retinal detachment, but she maintained her cheerfulness. Finally, in July 2001, she got the word that a donor had been found that matched her tissue type.

“It was on a Sunday at around 6 p.m., and we had just gotten take-out fried chicken. They called me and said you need to come, and I said, “I just got my chicken! Can I at least eat it first? Since I lived very close, they said OK. I ate my chicken and went to the hospital.”

Anderson received her first transplant, of a healthy kidney and pancreas from a deceased donor, early the next morning. At first it seemed things went smoothly, but after 10 days, the transplanted pancreas was discovered to have died, possibly due to a blood clot.

Anderson had to undergo surgery immediately to remove the donated pancreas. That, she said, was the worst part of the ordeal.

“I was really, really weak. I was in physical therapy for a long time,” she says. But, she says, staying positive helped her recover and move on.

Anderson went back on insulin shots for several years, until 2006, when her physician, Dr. Rajab, placed her back on the list for a second pancreatic transplant.

She and her husband were in the process of building a backyard deck when they got the call, again on a Sunday afternoon. Transplant number two, she says, went extremely smoothly, and Anderson was able to discontinue insulin injections. She went home after only five days in the hospital recovered rapidly.

However, she says, the deck did not recover for a year, sitting unfinished in the backyard. So for Mother’s Day in 2008, Anderson went out and bought all the lumber needed to complete the deck, wrapped them in a bow and put them in her garage.

“I put a note on it, ‘Some assembly required,’ and told my husband he didn’t need to get me anything else,” she laughs.

Though Anderson has also suffered from reduced bone density which has led to several painful bone breaks and more surgery to repair them, she has been able to continue her favorite hobbies, cooking and gardening.

“My backyard is one big greenhouse. I can’t see a whole lot but can I see the colors of the flowers and I can dig holes,” she says.

“Focus on it (the positive),” Anderson says. “You can find a million negative things, you can’t do this and you can’t do that, but you can adjust to everything."