Blessed Assurance: Success Despite the Odds

by Jacquie Lewis-Kemp, Author & Health Coach for Living life with diabetes and organ transplants, rather than limiting life because of them.

Browsing Posts in Christian Living

While on dialysis, I wondered whether we would see this day.  But now, after kidney and pancreas transplants, my years have been significantly extended!

Friday, May 23, 2014 Steve and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. We had a fabulous time with friends, members of our wedding party and of course family. We entered the routunda after guests viewed the video below, as the dj played Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”!  Please enjoy our video:

 

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Christmastime is when most of us decorate our homes and invite family and friends over to overeat, laugh and catch up on what has been going on since the last time the group was together.  If you have lost a loved one it is also a time when we remember Christmases past and the fun times we shared.

When I lost my father he was just 52 years old and there was a list of people that I felt God could have taken instead of my father.  Each holiday felt like my shopping list was so short–even though there was only one name removed.  My father-in-law perhaps suffered the most. His birthday was the same day as my father’s. We’d have a birthday dinner for both of them and I would buy similar gifts in different colors–it was fun. But after my father died, I couldn’t bring myself to shop for September 23.

Finally I rationalized in my mind that I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself about having lost my father.  There were many women that I knew who would never know what it was like to have a father like mine.  The old saying that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, is hard to grasp–AND SOMETHING YOU NEVER WANT TO HEAR RIGHT AFTER LOSING SOMEONE.  But in time, I got it.   The impact of my father’s love for me has lasted me and I believe will continue to last for the rest of my life. People (particularly my son) are probably so tired of hearing me say, “What my father used to say about that is . . .”

It’s a good thing that I learned that lesson before losing my mother.  By this time I had received the Gift of Life twice and survived the West Nile virus.  And so what brought me peace was that “things” were not my mother nor did they represent her. But the impact that she had on my life and the lives of so many others, is her legacy.

My brother and I were also fortunate in that  we were able to carry out her final wishes and that was to donate her organs to people who needed them. It is interesting that we did not discuss her wishes during or after our kidney transplant.  But we both knew growing up that both our parents wanted to donate their organs–it was something that they discussed with us as children.

We missed the opportunity when our father died, however we were able to oblige our mother.  Even though it wasn’t my organs that were donated, that we completed my mother’s wishes, felt like I was paying it forward.  One day I will ACTUALLY pay it forward since I am a registered organ donor.

Even though they are not likely to use my brother’s transplanted kidney in my body or my new pancreas, I don’t want to make a medical decision that I’m not qualified to make.  The way I figure it, let me donate the organs when I’m through with them and let the doctors decide who may be able to use them.

IF YOU HAVE RECEIVED AN ORGAN TRANSPLANT, REGISTER TO BECOME AN ORGAN DONOR AND PAY IT FORWARD!

 

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Dancing to the music at the Haley Funeral Director’s tent at the Hope UMC Carnival July 13, 2013.

 

 

Local seniors enjoyed a day at the carnival when Haley Funeral Directors hosted them in the HFD tent at the Hope United Methodist Church’s 3rd annual Southfield Festival of Hope. HFD invited local senior apartment communities out for a day at the festival. Although the seniors weren’t too keen on taking a spin on the carnival rides, they did enjoy Soul Food Alley, the many vendors, local entertainment and of course the sunshine.

 

The response back from The Fountains at Franklin Activities Director, Robin Whitley was that “…they enjoyed the carnival fun and look forward to next year”.

 

Not to forget the youth, Haley Funeral Directors also sponsored 8 young women from the Judson Center, a human service agency located in Southeastern Michigan to help children, adults and families improve their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Kemp II engages HFD guests in a round of Bid Whist!

 

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Where medicine couldn’t go any

further, God stepped in to end the

 battle.

 

 

 

 

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Michigan Funeral Directors Association Journal

In an industry already plagued with consumer protection concerns, it baffles me why funeral directors would choose to publish an 11 page article suggesting that organ transplant is a for profit industry and is potentially harmful to the donor. Don’t funeral directors have enough controversy to settle when consumers feel that some take advantage of people at their most vulnerable time of need? Why would they take on the merits of organ transplant unless of course they were looking to justify another profit center–a potential mark up on embalming an organ donor?

I am the recipient of two organ transplants–a living related kidney and a cadaveric pancreas. I am also part of an organ donor family. My brother and I carried out our mother’s wishes to donate her organs. Finally I am the wife of a funeral director. And so my perspective is pretty all encompassing.

The article in question is an excerpt of the book “The New Undead” written by Dick Teressi. In it, he sensationalizes organ transplant and refers to it as an industry as if it is done for profit. He suggests (among other medical untruths);

  • ·       “The Transplant Industry is a $20 billion dollar per year industry…”

  • ·       Donor family should remain present after the brain death has been declared

  • ·       Donor pain during organ recovery

  • ·       Organ Donor disfigurement for funeral services

“Transplant Industry”

Indeed there are significant costs associated with saving lives by transplanting good organs from someone who has died into others with failing organs. It is a medical advancement that gives a second chance at life to people with diseased, failing organs. To maintain these new organs immunosuppressant drugs have been developed and improved to prolong the life of the new organ. This is not exactly a self serving industry when there are so many beneficiaries. Yes the drug companies, hospitals and medical staff benefit. But to a much larger degree, the organ recipient, donor family, and recipient family benefit. Perhaps an unexpected beneficiary is the funeral director. Because my husband is a funeral director and has buried several organ donors including my mother, I know that he has a special sense of pride when serving a family of an organ donor–similar in nature to washing Jesus’ feet.

Family remaining present after a brain dead declaration?

Surely hospitals and funeral directors know that the grief process is highly individual–from screams and shouts to vigils to celebrations of life. To suggest that family members remain present through the entire donation process is not just ridiculous, but unchristian. The body is merely the shell we leave behind after death.

 Donor pain during organ recovery

I will sum up this implausible notion with a quote from a transplant medical professional, “The peripheral pain receptors have to travel thru the brain stem to be perceived by the higher brain. Dead is dead. Hearts have regulatory systems that are independent of brain function which could explain the racing, especially if stimulated. Has he ever seen a heart beating in a Petri dish?”

Organ Donor disfigurement for funeral services?

I suppose it depends on the skill of the funeral director the family chooses. As for my husband’s work, it has always been pleasing to the families he has served.

So why did the Michigan Funeral Directors Association use 11 pages of its journal to offer credence to this quackery? Was it to discourage organ donation? Was it to justify funeral homes who want to charge extra for embalming an organ donor? Or was it to gain readership and issue discussion for the Journal?

If the purpose of publishing this article was to increase the Journal’s readership and discussion, an article touting the benefits of Cremation would do more and would certainly wake up brain dead funeral directors who base their profit margin on casket sales.

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I’m thankful for being able to celebrate this Thanksgiving with my 92-year old grandmother. A few weeks ago, her house caught fire while she was getting ready for bed. When she first smelled smoke, she checked her kitchen to make sure there was nothing burning on the stove. Satisfied that there wasn’t, she returned to bed.

She woke up again smelling smoke and when she entered her dinning room, it was full of smoke. She managed to escape out of her back door where she flagged down a car passing her house. The Good Samaritan helped her into his car, called 911 and my cousin to come to get her. The fire was an electrical fire that demolished the basement and smoke damaged the remaining items in her house.

While this fire damaged lots of wonderful memories of Thanksgivings past around Granny’s dining room table, the bottom line is that God spared her life, our cherished memories are not “things” in that house, but experiences burned onto our consciousness.

As you can imagine, at 92 my grandmother has attended lots of loved one’s funerals. As I look at the calendar, I realize that November 20, 2012 marks the 29th anniversary of her husband’s (my grandfather’s) death. I remember having a very somber Thanksgiving in 1983 anticipating his funeral the day after. So losing her house, the home she vowed never to leave despite its size because it was the home that Granddaddy provided, is particularly devastating as I know she is mindful of the anniversary of his death. We will wrap our arms around her and take a new step much like the one she took in 1983.

Granny and I share that this fire proves that even at the ripe age of 92, God still has something that he needs for her to do here on earth.    

 

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Lizzie Kemp

Last week we celebrated the life of my most loyal friend, my canine friend, my dog, Lizzie. We believe that even after being treated for Addison’s disease, she developed congestive heart failure. She began to retain water for which I prescribed her Lasix (the vet later agreed it would provide her with some relief) and she moved slowly around the house.

One day when she wouldn’t come in from out of the rain when I called her, I knew it was time. She didn’t understand me, or she couldn’t hear me, or she couldn’t see well–I really couldn’t tell which was the case. I ended up having to pull her in the house out of the rain. She hadn’t eaten all day either and she was extremely weak. I called my husband at work and he agreed that we should take her to the vet to be euthanized.

The next morning was hectic with things to get done. We both had a funeral to attend for a church member’s husband. My husband is a funeral director and he was handling the service. My husband loaded Lizzy into the Suburban. He had to pick her up and even though she was heavy with fluid, she managed to stand up in the back and look out of the window.

I followed in another car. My husband said that as they approached the vet’s office, Lizzie hopped over the seat into the middle section and laid her head on the front console. My husband rubbed her ears as he drove. The he said as he began turning into the vet’s parking lot, she began to cough and slumped down onto the floor.

I parked and got out of my car to try to help them into the vet’s office. When I got to the back door, Steve said that he thought that she was dead and we got the vet. He listened to her heart and confirmed that Lizzie had no heartbeat.

The way I see it, Lizzie went on her own terms. I would imagine that she found it kind of strange that Daddy lifted her into his car so early in the morning and said the word “vet”. Daddy has never taken her to the vet. Daddy has never even met the vet. Does Daddy know the way to the vet? Might Daddy be taking me on my last ride in the car?

There would be no shot, not euthanasia for Lizzie. Perhaps the anticipation was too much for her heart. And so now, when my son chooses an urn for Lizzie’s ashes, she will join Max our Shepard / Husky mix who lived to be 13 and Bandit, my mom’s Lhasa Apso, on the mantle of pets who’ve gone on. My family thanks all of them for filling our lives with such joy.

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Unexpected Blessings

In my chapter of Victorious Living for Women, I talk about how we can never predict exactly where our blessings will come from. In fact I detail how my difficult period of kidney failure and dialysis was, at that time, the worst thing that had ever happened to me. My kidney transplant after seven months of dialysis then became the reason I was eligible for a pancreas transplant. And what a pancreas transplant meant was that I no longer had to follow a diabetes regimen.

As I reflected back to the time of my diabetes diagnosis at the age of seven, I recall that my grandfather and pastor told me that we would just pray that [diabetes] away.  You can imagine how my parents felt about my grandfather instilling hope into their daughter that they were talking to physicians about how to prepare me for a lifetime of diabetes management. While both my parents were Christian, they didn’t want me to be confused and spend my life waiting for a miraculous cure one day.

I didn’t spend my life waiting for that cure, and instead pushed forward to live a normal life. It wasn’t until after my pancreas transplant that I reminded my grandmother of my grandfather [now deceased]’s prayer. Could it be that he did pray it away? Why do we think that when we pray, God is somehow on the clock? That He has a timeframe in which to answer our prayer. Not only does he have a timeframe, but a manner in which He should do it. “To pray my diabetes away”, somehow seemed to me and my parents for God to perform some miracle and I would somehow be cured. A simple prong on the head and diabetes would be gone!

Who would imagine that He would use physicians and technology and achieve essentially a cure?

It is with that realization that I am careful not to predict and plan where my acts of kindness go, because I never know where my blessings will come from. In other words, I don’t decide to do nice things for people that I expect a return of good fortune. The idea of paying it forward is not finding a trading partner or deciding who is worthy to receive your gift. It is passing on a gift to someone in need or deserving, without expecting anything in return.

I recently had such an opportunity. At a Writer’s Expo, a young woman, before performing a song told the story of her intent to relocate to Georgia in order to donate a kidney to a long time friend of hers. What’s the chance that I was in that room of authors–both fiction and nonfiction–to hear this story. I was in a place to tell my story and experiences of being a two-time organ transplant recipient to someone who really needed to understand the process. I was stunned, even paralyzed to listen to her. I knew immediately that God had placed me in that place to hear her story and provide information and guidance for this transplant procedure. I wasn’t even sure why I attended this Expo; it wasn’t necessarily an event that I thought I would sell many books. But I received a blessing beyond what selling several books could provide: The blessing of knowing that my story mattered.

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Upcoming Events

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Blessed Assurance: Success Despite the Odds

CALENDAR OF EVENTS
04/14/12 Writer’s Expo, The Upper Room, Detroit, MI
04/21/12 Signing Books, God’s World 2-4 PM                 Seven Mile and Schafer in Detroit, MI
04/28/12 Walking with Jackie’s Crew to cure MS              at Covington School, Bloomfield Hills, MI
05/01/12 Advocating diabetes and kidney education programs at the American Diabetes Association and National Kidney Foundation’s        Diabetes & Kidney Day in Lansing, MI
05/12/12 Signing books at Antioch Baptist Church  in Pontiac, MI
8/4-8/12 Signing books at the Bass Mollett booth at the   National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association convention in Las Vegas, NV
09/29/12 University of Michigan Transplant Center’s    Vita Redita Gala & Charity Auction  at THE BIG HOUSE! in Ann Arbor, MI
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Yoga Poses

I used to lead a very sedentary life of writing and blogging, walking from my computer to the refrigerator, with the occasional walk to the garage door to let my dog have at it within the Invisible Fence. That’s it Lizzy, exercise yourself! How much lazier can you get, when you don’t even walk the dog.

 

 

My diabetes has always kept me with pretty good eating habits, so I sought to exercise more to lose weight, strengthen my upper body and gain a better range of motion. A good friend (ok, the ring bearer from my wedding—boy am I old!) is a personal trainer, so I signed my husband and I up to work out with him 3 days a week. We did well for about six months, but we didn’t lose much weight. Indeed I felt stronger, and my upper body strength and stamina was improving. My husband’s stamina improved as well, but his schedule seemed to get in the way and he eventually quit and I was traveling out of the way to meet him there and he no longer went, so I quit.

Well, I stopped the personal training sessions, but I continued to do the routines he outlined for us at home. I even bought a stair stepper to maintain an everyday exercise commitment. But again, no weight loss—felt well, but no weight loss.

A fellow author and registered nurse who lost over 80 pounds offered a weight loss e-course that I signed up for. Although I knew I was eating relatively healthy, there were some key components that I was missing, which hindered my weight loss. Shelita Williams (www.shelitawilliams.com), through her e-course helped me to do 3 key things that lead to a 10 lb weight loss over six weeks: 1) Calculating the daily caloric requirements we need to exist; and targeting a 500 calorie reduction through a combination of diet and exercise; 2) Keeping a journal of everything I ate, exercise I did, water intake (not a real issue for me because of my transplant water requirements); and 3) Operating within the tips she offered throughout the sessions like, the green smoothie meal replacement or fast to shrink our stomachs in order to reduce cravings; don’t eat anything for two hours before bed (I cut off eating at 7pm, regardless of the time I turn in.

This helped me to lose 10 pounds, however maintaining interest in daily exercise has been a challenge. But I continue to search for that perfect complement. I recently bought a Groupon for 10 yoga class sessions. I’ve been twice and I love it. Not only is it a good workout, but in just two sessions I can feel myself more limber and strong. Those sets of planks Corey started in my personal training sessions gave me a heads up for this yoga thing. But I miss the cardiovascular workout from Corey (coreyalfordfitness@yahoo.com). In a perfect world I could do yoga 3 days a week and train with Corey 3 days a week and like God, rest on the 7th. Maybe I will try easing into that schedule.

I wasn’t proud of where I was, and I know that exercise (even if you are the perfect weight) is important to maintaining good glucose control, circulation and bone density—all key for diabetics and transplant patients.

The key is not to give up, but to keep trying until you reach your health and fitness goal and can maintain it!

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