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Transplant Recipient Relied on Faith While Waiting for Transplant

A life-long battle with Type 1 Diabetes left Arlinda Griffin praying for a gift, from an unknown hero. She would later receive her gift of life, a life-saving kidney and pancreas transplant.

Arlinda sings the national anthem at the Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves game in July 2017

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)

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.”

Photo: Ed Hille, Staff Photographer, Philly.com http://www.philly.com/philly/health/20161002_Gift_of_Life_brings_donor_families_and_recipients_together.html

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.”

In 2017, Arlinda fulfilled a life-long dream of singing the National Anthem at a Philadelphia Phillies game. Mary joined Arlinda on the field and the two shared this special moment together. Arlinda will sing the anthem again at the 23rd Annual Donor Dash on Sundy, April 15, 2018.

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.

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 75 others – a gift that is impactful to the recipients, their family members and the community on a whole.

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