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Transplant Recipient Relied on Faith While Waiting for Kidney and Pancreas Transplants

At six years old, Philadelphia resident, Arlinda Griffin, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.  She was put on insulin and was restricted from all the sweets that children often love – candy, cookies and sugar of any type. By the time she reached her late teens, she began suffering from seizures that doctors said were related to her diabetes.

Arlinda, a deeply faithful and positive woman, continued to live her life with hope in spite of her health challenges.  She earned a cosmetology license at 18, began a career as a hairdresser and gave birth to her son, Shawn, when she was 21.

Arlinda performs at Gift of Life Donor Program's Gospel Competition. Sunday, July 31, 2016. (©2016 Mark Stehle Photography)

Arlinda performs at Gift of Life Donor Program’s Gospel Competition. Sunday, July 31, 2016. (©2016 Mark Stehle Photography)

Years later, Arlinda began having changes with her vision.  She would wake up and rub her eyes because everything was fuzzy and she couldn’t see.  After pushing off a visit to the doctor for as long as she could, Arlinda went to an ophthalmologist and was told that she had a detached retina in her right eye.  After a surgery and many attempts to save her vision, today Arlinda has no sight in her right eye and 5% vision in her left eye.  She was faced with the reality that regardless of how well she was taking care of herself, her diabetes was resistant and she was unable to get it under control.

At 33 years old, she faced another obstacle – she was in the early stages of congestive heart failure.  After she passed out due to her heart issues, her son called 911 and she was raced to the hospital.  The diagnosis was alarming – in addition to her heart, Arlinda’s kidney function was diminishing and she was told that she would need a kidney transplant to survive.

“At that point, I wanted to give up.  I didn’t want to have to have a transplant, to go on dialysis.  It was frightening.  My mother was really a big support system for me during the time.  She took me to all of my appointments, tried to persuade me to get listed for a transplant and even wanted to get tested for living donation.” said Arlinda.  “I started to gain a lot of weight and had breathing issues because of my kidneys.  I couldn’t even walk up the steps.”

She was scared and unwilling to accept the reality that she needed a kidney transplant, until one night when her mind was changed forever.  “I was in bed and I heard someone call my name.  I felt that it was God and he was reassuring me that I’d be okay.  I know it may sound crazy, but it gave me so much comfort.  It made me feel hopeful and that everything was going to be okay.” she said.

At the same time, Arlinda’s health continued to diminish.  Fluid was overtaking her body and she could barely walk or breathe.  Her only hope was a life-saving kidney transplant, but as she waited, dialysis kept her kidneys functioning.  She went to dialysis three hours a day, most days of the week.  She was added to the organ transplant waitlist for both a kidney and a pancreas to help eradicate the diabetes that had taken her eyesight and her health.

Through it all, Arlinda relied on her Christian faith and singing in her church’s gospel group to pull her through.  Her faith was unshakeable and she still believed that God would make sure that everything would be okay.  She said, “My Pastor was so supportive.  He picked me up.  I would listen to gospel music as much as I could because it was so helpful for me.  I didn’t complain during any of my sickness.  I had hope that I would be okay.”

“My last day of dialysis – before I got the call that there was a matching kidney and pancreas for me – I had a thought that this may be the day.  I thought ‘what if this is my last treatment?’  I knew it was a possibility and it felt amazing.” said Arlinda. “My transplant surgery went well and doctors told me that there was no sign of diabetes in my blood.  I spent 12 days in the hospital and was able to sit up and eat just days after my transplant.  I was so thankful.  I never thought I could feel that great.  I felt bubbly and energetic.  My whole life I felt one way, and now I was different.  God was watching over me.”

After a year of corresponding with her donor’s mother, Mary Smith, the two women were able to meet.  “I was so anxious and grateful to talk with her and her husband.  I wanted them to know how grateful I was.  They gave me a second chance at life.  What more could I ask for?  Today, we have such a phenomenal relationship.  I thank God for her every day.  We talk regularly and it’s therapeutic for me.  Mary and her husband are both so easy to talk to.  We have a wonderful connection, and I believe that this was all in God’s plan.”

From November 11 – November 13, Arlinda will celebrate National Donor Sabbath, along with Gift of Life Donor Program and other transplant recipients, living donors and donor family members across the country.  The weekend is an opportunity to bring together organ and tissue donation education and faith-based houses of worship.

“I think the education that comes out of NDS is so needed.  There is so much misinformation and people need to know the truth about donation.” said Arlinda.

One of the most common misconceptions about registering as an organ donor is that one’s religion does not support it.  In fact, all major religions support organ donation. Observed annually,

National Donor Sabbath seeks to educate faith-based communities about the more than 119,000 men, women and children in the U.S. who are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. This national initiative partners with faith leaders, houses of worship and faith-based organizations to educate its congregations about the critical need for donors.

No final act is more heartfelt or caring than donating ones’ organs.  It shows an individual’s compassion for others, and can change lives forever.   The decision to donate – often made at a grief-stricken and terrible moment in life – is one that is far-reaching and greatly beneficial.  One organ donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 others – a gift that is impactful to the recipients, their family members and the community on a whole.

About Gift of Life Donor Program: Since 1974, Gift of Life Donor Program has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants, along with an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. It only takes 30 seconds to register as an organ and tissue donor at donors1.org.

Just one organ and tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people.  For more information on organ and tissue donation, please call Gift of Life at 1-800-DONORS-1 (1-800-366-6771) or visit donors1.org.

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