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New Kidney, New Lease on Life: December 19, 2011

Life for Arlene McKen-Sutherland had become a chore.

“I was diagnosed with lupus and that lead to kidney failure, and I was on dialysis for I’d say four and a half years.”

The treatment that was keeping her alive was sapping the life out of her.

“I would get on the machine I would be sick for three hours I would get off the machine I would be sick for the other 21 hours,” says Arlene.

“We start following patients when they reach what’s called end stage renal disease. That’s the point at which there’s about a 15% function left on a person’s native kidneys,” says Barbara Miller, Director of Kidney Transplant for Lee Memorial Health System.

“At that point in time their kidney doctors usually refer them to us for evaluation for transplant, they go through a fairly rigorous evaluation process to make sure that they’re appropriate candidates for transplant,” says Barbara.

“I wasn’t interested, because at that point I was like, this is the end for me. Because growing up I heard that dialysis is like the last step before death. So I didn’t feel like doing any of the work up any of the tests or anything,” says Arlene.

She eventually changed her mind, and on August 13th, Friday the 13th 2010, her luck and life changed.

“They tell you keep your bag ready, my bag’s been ready for four years, four and a half years,” says Arlene.

Arlene’s hopes had been dashed several times. She had issues with her blood that prevented her transplantation more than once. But the kidney of a deceased 46-year-old woman was meant for her.

“She gave me a kidney and I can’t express how happy I am that I actually got to live again,” says Arlene.

“A transplant truly is a new lease on life, and I think when someone has received an organ, they also -  a great sense of the gift that another family truly has given them at a time when you know they’re grieving so often over the loss of a loved one,” says Barbara.

And so Arlene has made the most of her second chance at life.

“We adopted a little boy. His name is Cameron and he’s from Jamaica. I went back to school and I did a pharmacy technician course. I did it for me because I wanted to help other people the way I was helped, and I did it for the donor also. I’m sure she had dreams, a 46 year old you still have dreams, and so you know I’m doing it for both of us really,” says Arlene.

Nationwide, 95,000 people are waiting for a kidney. In paying her gift forward, Arlene believes she is paying her donor back.