A Story of Hope

A Story of Hope

Some people are dealt a bad hand in life and just lay down; some people are dealt a bad hand but persevere with grace, integrity, humor and love only to come out on the other end with a greater appreciation of all life has to offer. The latter describes the MoDavis couple. Stephanie and Chris.  Here is their story.

When Stephanie was in her early 20’s, she started feeling “off.” No doctor could quite pin point what was wrong, but it continued through the year. As she became sicker and sicker, her doctor visits became more frequent, but still no answer.

What was happening to this young lady who practiced yoga, was a vegetarian, and led a healthy and holistic life? After 1.5 years and five misdiagnoses, it was finally ruled to be Lupus.

However, since the diagnosis was such a long time in coming, it had already done irreparable damage to her kidneys. With Chris by her side every step of the way, Stephanie, who was now 26 and had already endured years of sickness, 50+ hospital stays/visits, side effects from numerous medications, and even a period in a wheelchair, was now faced with getting herself on the organ donor list.

But in order to even get on the list, Stephanie had to get herself better. “They were not going to give a kidney to someone as sick as I was.” After a month’s stay in the hospital, the removal of 35 pounds of fluid that was engulfing her heart and lungs, and finally on the correct medications, she was released and was able to start out-patient kidney dialysis. She could work on getting better.

For two years, 4 hours a day, every other day, Stephanie went to dialysis and worked hard to get better. She practiced yoga, and when she wasn’t able to physically practice, she used the mental aspects of yoga to help her through her day. She re-centered her thoughts, and life went on. She and Chris watched silly movies, grocery shopped and walked the dogs. She was on her way, but now had to wait for a new kidney.

Steph’s doctor told her and Chris about the Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  This program, via a database, captures the medical information of those in need of kidneys and pairs them with donors. Chris was not a candidate for donation to Stephanie BUT was willing to donate a kidney, so, he and Stephanie enrolled in the Johns Hopkins program.

Enter John and Fran Shultz, a Philadephia couple. Fran was in need of a kidney. A second one, actually. She had a transplant at the age of 30, but, now at the age of 48, she needed another one. And like Chris, her husband John was not able to donate to Fran but was willing to donate through the database.

Incredibly, the database paired the Shultz and the MoDavis couples. Chris was compatible with Fran, and amazingly, John was compatible with Steph.

On November 16, 2006, Stephanie, Chris, Fran and John were all in the same operating room in Johns Hopkins. Chris donated his kidney to Fran, and John donated his kidney to Stephanie resulting in the first couple-to-couple transplant in the United States. It was a success in so many ways beyond medical. Stephanie, with John’s kidney, got a second chance at a healthy life, and Fran, with Chris’s kidney, was given the opportunity to meet her grandchildren.

Jump ahead about two months. Stephanie and Chris had both recovered from surgery, and Stephanie was doing very well (as was Fran). But they were facing an “a-ha” moment in their lives. For the past decade, their lives were consumed with Stephanie’s illness. There was nothing else. That’s where their time went, that’s where their energy went. But now, Stephanie was better, and they were in a bit of a life-limbo.

As she became sicker and sicker, her doctor visits became more frequent, but still no answer. What was happening to this young lady who practiced yoga, was a vegetarian, and led a healthy and holistic life?

Stephanie, who had loved and taken yoga her entire adult life, toyed with the idea of owning a studio but in the end, both she and Chris decided to go back to school. Stephanie for nursing; Chris for teaching. That was the right thing to do right? Steady income, good insurance, etc. but after a few years of that, it became clear to Stephanie. They were given a second chance. Even though nursing was not in the cards, she could still help people. She could help them by doing what she loved from the beginning. That was yoga.

When telling their story, sometimes Stephanie and Chris would tear up. But there were smiles underneath. “It is good to tell this story again, “Stephanie said. “We sometimes get caught up in life and forget… well, we don’t forget but we do set it aside. It is good to remember. To remember how lucky and fortunate we are.”

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram