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October 27, 2021

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June Fields tells her double organ recipient story

You've probably met her at Et Cetera, where she volunteers; or at BFR where she walks

Note: June Fields, of 4495 N. Phillips Road, Harrod, provided the Icon with her journey as a double organ recipient. April is Donate Life Month. June encourages families to have a talk about organ donation. Several questions and answers about this subject are at the bottom of the feature.

By June Fields
My name is June Fields and I live near Bluffton and come into town often to shop, bank, eat or volunteer at the Et Cetera Shop, so you may have seen me out and about. 

At the age of 19, I went into a diabetic coma. I had not been feeling well for quite a while but blew it off since I was young and busy with being newly married and learning a new job. I began having an indescribable thirst and would drink anything I could get my hands on.

Of course, what goes in must come out so I urinated constantly. My vision started getting blurry and I could sleep like a bear during hibernation. I also lost quite a bit of weight even though I was eating a lot and then one morning I awoke and was disoriented and had to call for help to go to Bluffton Hospital.

What a shock when the ER doctor told us that I was a Type 1 diabetic and would need to be on insulin shots the rest of my life. Literally back in 1980 you were handed an orange and a needle and told to practice shooting it up.

Diabetes had not afflicted anyone in my family so I had no knowledge of this disease or its signs ­– remember this was 1980, we used typewriters back then, no computers and social media.

The life for an insulin dependent diabetic is very hard for the entire family.  My two children learned at a very young age to dial 911 if mommy would not wake up. 

High and low blood sugars became a way of life with many times no rhyme or reason. I had to get up several times each night to check my blood sugars as I usually went low at night.  In 1990, while pregnant with my second child, the doctor noticed my kidney function was decreasing. 

I had a healthy baby boy, but was told to not have any more children. The doctors kept a sharp eye on my kidneys but after 30 years of kidney disease, the worse came true. 

Stage 4-5 chronic kidney failure
In 2018-2019 I went into stage 4-5 chronic kidney failure. I fortunately had an excellent nephrologist (kidney doctor), Dr. Glenn Bryant of Lima Memorial Hospital, who laid the cards on the table and had a very honest discussion with me on treatment options regarding dialysis and/or transplant.  Tears were shed and I went home to decide what to do.

I honestly could feel my life slowly slipping away. My body was swelling due to fluid retention and I had not seen my ankle bones for quite a while.  I had little energy and took naps to get thru the day. 

Most of all, I missed not playing soccer with my grandkids and running around in the yard with them being that crazy fun grandma.  When I looked at them, many times I would have to hold back the tears while thinking… will I be around next Christmas, will this be our last summer playing in the sun?

After many hours researching on the internet, the decision was made that I was going to try and get a pancreas- kidney transplant thru the OSU Wexner Medical Center (OSU). 

This decision was based on many factors and I am thankful I had the help of a great medical team, and so many friends and community members supporting me through prayer, cards, visits and social media.

Attended informative meeting to discuss transplation
In early 2019, my husband and I attended an informative meeting at OSU to listen to a medical team discuss transplantation.

I was shocked at the wide range of people’s ages in this meeting, from age 20-65, most of them needing kidneys.  I was 59 and I knew that as you age, the transplant surgery becomes more difficult especially if you have underlying health issues and may hinder your ranking on the list.

There are quite a few pre-tests that are required before being evaluated by the OSU Transplant Committee to determine whether you’re a good candidate for transplant.  I immediately had these tests done since time was a factor for me. 

I passed all pre-tests and then was evaluated by a transplant surgeon who thoroughly went through the transplant procedure.  There is a whole medical team that evaluates you to make sure you are physically and emotionally ready for a transplant. 

On May 14, 2019, I received my letter that advised that the OSU Transplant Committee had approved me to be placed on the pancreas-kidney transplant list.  I sat down and cried happy tears but scared as well.  I was told to pack a hospital bag and be ready to go to OSU immediately upon a call from the transplant coordinator.  I was not allowed to be more than 2-3 hours away from Columbus at any time. The wait began.

I had three calls that a deceased donor’s pancreas and kidney were available throughout the next seven months.  Each time, we jumped in our car, prayed, called family, and reflected as we made that trek. 

Sadly, upon the doctors’ evaluation of the organs, the pancreas each time was not viable so I was sent home to wait for the next call.  On a positive note, people on the kidney transplant list were able to receive those good kidneys!

June, we have a match
On June 15, 2020, at 9 p.m. my phone rang and the readout said OSU WEXNER.  I nervously answered and the beautiful voice said, “June, we have a match.”

 I always tear up when I think of this moment because that call changed my life.  We had to be there by midnight and that night was a whirlwind. I had a team of nurses who prepped me, took vitals every hour and I literally had someone in my room all night long. 

Due to Covid restrictions, only my husband could be there with me.  Needless to say, we could not sleep.  We prayed to our faithful and loving God, I wrote good-bye letters to my dear family members just in case I had complications during the seven-hour surgery, and just thought about my life, hopes and dreams and how blessed I was to have such love and support  during the 18-month transplant journey.

Wheeled to surgery
At 8 a.m. on June 16, 2020, I was wheeled down to surgery for a better life. (See pictured is Surgeon Bumgardner, Professor of Transplant Surgery.)

During the first three months of post-surgery I was very weak and could not stand during my daily shower. I was also nauseated by the many medications I was on which caused several hospital visits due to dehydration and other minor complications. 

After three months, I started feeling so much better and regaining my strength.  By six months I felt the best I had felt in 40-plus years. 

I was no longer a diabetic and could see my ankle bones! I could enjoy an ice cream cone with no regrets and no more blood sugar checks. 

I now walk three-plus miles each day and am overjoyed that I was blessed by a precious donor who saved my life.  My new organs started working immediately after surgery and it was amazing to see my blood sugars be and remain completely normal.  Plus with a good kidney,  I started urinating a lot and  lost much water weight. 

Every transplant recipient is different
Every transplant recipient is different as to which and how much anti-rejection medications they will take for a lifetime. For me and probably most organ recipients, there is a spiritual connection between me and my donor who was a young man in his mid-20s. 

I find these words true for donor families, “It takes an incredible person to nurture seeds of hope amongst the ruins of tragedy.  Thank you for your strength.”  I grieve for him and his family and am devoted to taking care of his gifts of life to me.

Deep appreciation to Village of Bluffton shops and to BFR
I would like to convey my deep appreciation to the Village of Bluffton’s shops, stores, banks, and especially BFR for stepping up and providing Covid safety measures for their community, especially those of us who have compromised immunity.  My daily three-mile walks at BFR kept my mental and physical well-being intact during the pandemic.

I’ve spoken to people who now regret that they did not know their deceased loved one’s wishes on organ donation so they chose not to as they did not want to do something that the deceased would not want. 

A different decision could have saved eight lives and healed more than 75 through tissue donation had they knew.  

Additional information
and a few of the questions
I have been asked  – I hope they help you.

Lifeline of Ohio is a great source for information on organ donation.
Contact www.lifelineofohio.org,
770 Kinnear Road, Columbus, Ohio  43212, 800-525-5667

More than 3,100 people across the state of Ohio are waiting for organ transplants. Hundreds more await tissue and corneal transplants. Once every 48 hours, an Ohioan dies waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant.

Is there a maximum age for organ, eye and tissue donation?  No! You are never too old to be an organ, eye or tissue donor – in fact, the oldest organ donor was 92 and the oldest tissue and cornea donor was 107. Your age or health should not prevent you from registering to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.

Can organs, corneas and tissues be transplanted between races and genders? Yes! Gender and race are not factors considered in the matching process.

Who can be a donor? People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves potential donors. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.

A national system matches available organs from the donor with people on the waiting list based on blood type, body size, how sick they are, donor distance, tissue type and time on the list. Sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, race, income, celebrity and social status are never considered.

Will doctors try to save my life if they know I am a registered organ, eye and tissue donor?  Yes! Your life is always first. If you are taken to the hospital after an accident or injury, it is the hospital’s number one priority to save YOUR life. Your status as a donor is not even considered until every effort has been exhausted to save your life and death has been declared.

Will my donation decision be honored at the time of my death? Yes! When you register as an organ, eye and tissue donor in the Ohio Donor Registry you are making a legal decision. If you are over the age of 18, your registration is legally binding and no one but you can change your decision to donate. While not all families agree about donation, it’s imperative to talk about your decision with your family.

Is there a cost to donation? No! The donor’s family neither pays for, nor receives payment, for organ, eye and tissue donation. Hospital expenses incurred before the donation of organs in attempts to save the donor’s life, as well as funeral expenses, remain the responsibility of the donor’s family. All costs related to donation are paid by the organ, eye and tissue recovery agencies or the transplant center. Again, there is no cost to your family.

Does organ donation interfere with funeral plans? No! If an open casket funeral was possible before donation taking place, it is possible after donation.

Does my religion support organ, eye and tissue donation? All major religions in the United States support organ, eye and tissue donation and consider it a generous last act of caring.

Can you donate an organ while you are still alive? Yes, patients needing a partial liver or a kidney from a living donor may be an ideal option. OSU Wexner Center performs 100 living partial liver transplants a year and between 75-100 living kidney transplants a year.

Advantages of a living kidney donor transplant:

• Wait times for recipients are reduced from years to months, potentially avoiding dialysis.

• Recipients have better outcomes with kidneys from living donors.

• Kidneys from living donors may last nearly twice as long as kidneys from deceased donors.

• Risk of rejection is low.

About half of the transplants performed at Ohio State are performed with kidneys from living donors. Often living donors are family members, but a growing number are friends or co-workers. There are also people who choose to donate a kidney without having a specific recipient in mind. These extraordinary people are called non-directed or altruistic donors.

What can be donated? 
•• Organs:  Heart, Lungs, Liver, Kidneys, Intestine & Pancreas
•• Tissues:  Cornea, Tendons, Valves, Veins, Skin & Bones

A single donor has the potential to save eight lives through organ donation and heal more than 75 through tissue donation. The ripple effect of one person saying ‘yes’ to donation is powerful. And that powerful decision is felt by recipients, family members, friends, colleagues and so many more. 

Ohioans may declare their decision to become a donor by registering online through Lifeline of Ohio.

Additionally, individuals may declare their decision when at the BMV, or by completing a Donor Registry Enrollment Form by calling 800-525-5667.

Lifeline of Ohio encourages everyone to talk to their loved ones about their donation decision. When the next-of-kin knows their loved one’s decision at the time of death, it is one of the most helpful steps a grieving family can take to deal with its loss.

The Ohio Donor Registry is an individual’s first-person authorization to donate organs, corneas and tissues at the time of their death, if possible.