Thursday, February 19, 2009

Piedmont Baby Gets Second Chance at Life 59 Years Later

A pair of ruby earrings and a kidney fondly nicknamed ‘Ruby’ have a connection that have been a blessing to a local Atlanta woman. Ruth Jackson has suffered from polycystic kidney disease since she was a young woman. Born at Piedmont in 1949, Jackson returned this past Thanksgiving to Piedmont to get her second chance at life with a kidney transplant.

Jackson’s was the 2000th transplant performed at Piedmont Hospital, which celebrated the milestone on Nov. 28, 2008.

“While these might seem like just numbers and dates, they represent lives saved and new beginnings through the miracle of transplantation,” said John Whelchel, M.D., who performed Jackson’s transplant. “And, we can't forget that every one of the transplants performed by the Piedmont Hospital Transplant Services team is linked to a gift of compassion and generosity by an organ donor and their family.”

Jackson received a kidney from her husband’s sister, Jane Barringer. Barringer, a Dunwoody resident, is a widow and mother of an 18-year-old son.

When Barringer found out that her sister-in-law might need a kidney transplant she immediately signed up to be tested. She was a match from the beginning and fondly nicknamed the kidney she gave to Jackson “Ruby.”

In honor of “Ruby,” Jackson and her husband, Bruce, gave Barringer a pair of ruby earrings as a special Christmas gift in honor of Barringer’s life-saving gift.

“I wanted to be tested and donate my kidney, because it was a way that I could help,” said Barringer. “It was the right thing to do, and I wanted to do something to help the whole family. The alternative was scarier.”

Barringer was also worried about Jackson’s 18-year-old son who attends Chamblee High School and has autism. Barringer said she wanted to make sure that Jackson was around for a long time to care for her son.

“Jane made up her mind she was going through with the donation no matter what,” said Jackson. “I was afraid for Jane, but the testing was so thorough that it set my mind at ease.”

Jackson was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease 30 years ago by her Piedmont nephrologist Jerry Cooper, M.D., and knew she would have to have a kidney transplant at some point. She credits Dr. Cooper with keeping her healthy for so long.

“For many years it was a matter of maintaining a healthy weight and exercise regiment, and I did everything I could through a strict diet and exercising,” said Jackson. “Dr. Cooper said my disease would manifest itself in my 50s, and he was right. The disease started taking its toll beginning in 2006.”

“Ruth Jackson was the ideal patient, because she was an informed patient and really took good care of herself,” according to Dr. Cooper. “It has been an honor and a privilege to care for Ruth and to help make her life better. Courageous patients like her are an inspiration to all of us.”

Because of the progression of her kidney disease, Jackson required dialysis beginning in 2008. However due to her family and medical circumstances, her best option was to receive a kidney transplant. While Jackson didn’t have to wait long since she had a family donor willing to donate, many throughout the country do have to wait.

Currently there are more than 2,700 Georgians on the transplant waiting list; nearly 2,370 are awaiting a kidney transplant and 216 are awaiting a liver transplant. Recently, the United States passed a milestone: for the first time more than 100,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant. More than 6,000 of them will die waiting this year.

"The need for donors far outweighs the supply so we encourage all individuals to discuss donation with their family members and friends," said Mark Johnson, M.D., who performed Barringer's kidney donor transplant surgery. "We are pleased that more people are considering being living donors themselves because it is a very safe option as well as results in great outcomes for many individuals awaiting a transplant."

Piedmont Hospital has one of the shortest kidney transplant wait times in the region with an average of 26.7 months while the national average wait time is 41.6 months. Piedmont's one-year patient survival rate after kidney transplant is 98 percent and remains better than the national average and the majority of programs in Georgia and the surrounding states.

“The Piedmont Hospital transplant team is fabulous,” said Jackson. “Everyone has been positive, informative, professional and caring.”

Jackson said when she woke up from the surgery she felt different from the very start. Within 24 hours her toxin levels had been reduced by half and within 48 hours they were normal.

“Life is 180 degrees different, and it is wonderful. I feel now like I felt about five to six years ago. It’s as if the last few years have been taken away,” said Jackson. “Kidney disease is very gradual, and you don’t realize that you and your family are increasingly compensating for the illness. Our family is completely different.”

The Jackson’s, who have been married for 37 years, want to celebrate their anniversary in October by resuming one of their favorite family activities, hiking. They have hiked the Grand Canyon and Yosemite with their son. For now, Jackson is slowly building up her strength and stamina.

“I am so grateful and fortunate. I will be here for my son who is making progress. But, it will take longer for him to function in the world,” said Jackson. “This gives us more time together. I’m here for him because of Jane’s wonderful gift.”
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