The benefits and blessings of giving thanks
At Thanksgiving 2016, Monica Fox of Flossmoor got a miracle. After waiting three years on a transplant list, she was given a kidney from an accident victim who was her own age.
At Thanksgiving 2016, Monica Fox of Flossmoor got a miracle.
After waiting three years on a transplant list, she was given a kidney from an accident victim who was her own age.
“I’m just grateful, so grateful,” she said. Now her mission is to get people registered as organ donors.
Fox had been a medical administrator managing an orthotic and prostatic business when she fell ill in November 2013. Within 24 hours of visiting the doctor, she was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields.
At one point, doctors put her into a medically induced coma for several days as they treated her for heart failure, thyroid issues and kidney failure. After three weeks in ICU, and then time in the telemetry unit, muscle atrophy forced Fox into physical therapy to learn to walk again.
Her long road back also included starting kidney dialysis four hours a day three times a week.
“That started a journey of three years,” Fox said. “I would wake up at 4 a.m. to be at the center by 4:45 for my 5 o’clock chair appointment.”
“I took heed of all that information and I learned to manage my life and my dialysis treatment so that I did not feel totally drained when I left there,” she explained.
Dialysis works well, but it’s not 100 percent like a kidney, so patients like Fox make sacrifices.
“Chocolate is one of my favorite things in the world, and I had to give it up because it has a lot of phosphorous in it,” and potatoes and bananas have a lot of potassium. She also had to limit her liquid intake.
“You learn stuff like that, and you find ways to manage and also the ways that the machine is set up and the way it pulls, the way it operates. As a patient I was very interactive with my team and became very knowledgeable about the whole process. A lot of people have to go home and go to bed after a treatment, but I didn’t have to do that.”
Still, Fox gave up her job. Managing her health was too time consuming. She was seeing six specialists and was scheduling appointments throughout the week.
With some free time, Fox started volunteering with Gift of Hope (GOH) Organ & Tissue Donor Network, a not-for-profit organ procurement organization that coordinates organ and tissue donation and provides public education on donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana.
Fox was featured on a GOH video on the need for organ donations and had worked to encourage people to sign up to be a donor.
Over the many months in dialysis, Fox posted about her ordeal on Facebook. It was a way for her to share her frustrations about what she was dealing with. One woman, Theresa Moore-Caradine, offered to be a living donor, but she wasn’t a match. Others stepped forward, but health issues made it impossible for them to be donors.
In Illinois, it takes five to seven years for a donor match, Fox said. Hers came sooner.
A tragic accident led to the death of a 52-year-old man in Memphis. When doctors told his family there was no hope of recovery, the family remembered his wishes to help others through organ donation.
But the family wanted to help someone they knew. They asked family and friends, including Moore-Caradine, if there was a need. She told them about Fox and her experiences. The victim’s daughter, Markedia Powell, agreed Fox should be a recipient. She called Fox with the news that she was a match and the paperwork had been signed.
That was the Monday of Thanksgiving week. A crew from Gift of Hope was at her home to record the moments of anticipation for a final video about Fox’s experiences.
On Tuesday, Fox was admitted to the University of Illinois Hospital at 7 a.m. There was more testing to be done. The kidney was on a plane to Chicago.
Her Facebook friend Moore-Caradine was on the phone encouraging Fox. Her daughter Olivia, then a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, was at her side. Surgery was at midnight Wednesday. The team was led by Dr. Ivo Svetanov.
The first person she saw in recovery was her friend and fellow book club member, Rochelle Mathews, a UIC nurse.
Within days of surgery, she was up and moving. She’d make short Facebook videos of her progress and exclaiming her gratitude. She didn’t know Powell and other relatives were watching them.
“They said watching gave them peace to know I was so grateful and doing so well with the transplant and that (the victim) was still living on through me,” Fox said.
In April, Fox got to meet the donor’s family when GOH brought them to the House of Hope Church in Chicago for a 10th anniversary celebration of the largest donor registration ever.
The night before the event, Fox met the family at a restaurant.
“It was so overwhelming. It was really emotional at the initial meeting because it hadn’t been that long (five months). They’re still mourning and in a lot of pain over his death and they’d been so gracious to me,” she said.
Fox fills her days working part-time. Her schedule gives her flexibility to make doctors’ appointments, although they aren’t as frequent now. She is on two anti-rejection medicines, a pill to regulate her heart rate and one to regulate parathyroid hormone.
Because her medications have suppressed her immune system, Fox can’t take anything outside her pharmacist-approved regimen. “I can’t even take cold medicine unless they give me the OK,” she said.
As the one year mark approaches, Fox says she will continue to help raise awareness of the need for organ and tissue donation, and support for those who are transplant recipients and their families.
“It’s just been a blessing because it really turned a tragedy into a triumph.”
Cover photo by Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle