She was nine when the dreaded diagnosis came:
Diabetes. Already burdened with numerous allergies from
infancy, Melissa faced a lifetime of chronic disease and
possible complications. We began the learning process of coping
as a family, but ultimately it was mother and child who met and
shouldered each new challenge.
Her pediatrician struggled with the vagaries of high
blood sugars, increasing her insulin dosage only to have her
Normally a docile, agreeable little girl,
Melissa became moody and rebellious.
Dire warnings from her school threatened expulsion if we
didn't get the disease under control. When I found petrified
peanut butter sandwiches in the back of her closet, I called the
American Diabetes Association in desperation. Through them I
connected with the only counselor in the South Florida area at
the University of Miami Hospital's diabetes unit, and the doctor
who would supervise her diabetic care for the next several
Melissa's counselor felt she would benefit by
attending the ADA sponsored camp in Ashville, NC.
As a single mother in a new job, the cost was more than I
"It's not a problem," her counselor assured
me. "You pay what you feel you can afford and the ADA will pay
for the rest." So Melissa was off to camp for two weeks, much
against her will. She glared at me from the line boarding the
plane as if she were being sent to a concentration camp.
The first letter I received from her gave a
glowing report of the camp and their activities, much to my
relief. She felt "accepted" and not different, along with
learning how to handle her disease.
Each succeeding summer for five years, she went back to
camp. My contribution to her costs increased until the fifth
year when I was finally able to handle it without assistance
from the ADA.
The many possible complications of the
disease began to appear by the time she was twelve, making her
life a little more difficult with each onset. She endured test
after test and was labeled a brittle diabetic, making her
disease more difficult to control. One after another the
possible complications became the probable complications as they
besieged her little body, all of which she endured mostly with
patience. Neuropathy ravaged her nerves, diabetic retinopathy
robbed her of her peripheral vision; gastroparesis stalled her
digestive process; gynecological problems appeared. What we
feared most was renal disease, which launched its attack in her
late twenties. When available medical treatment no longer kept
it under control and dialysis was her only option, Melissa chose
peritoneal dialysisself-administered seven days a week, at night so not
to interfere with her job. A bout with peritonitis almost
claimed her, but her plucky spirit saw her through.
Hemo dialysis came next, three days a week.
Melissa drove herself to and from her sessions and went to work
afterward. We couldn't fathom how she had the energy to work as
a server after enduring four hours of dialysis, but she loved
her job and was determined to keep it.
Her tiny veins posed a problem for the
fistulas, the joining of a vein and an artery through which
dialysis was administered, and the jugular vein was used in the
interim waiting for the new site to be ready. A staph infection
in her bloodstream carried a morbidity rate of 25%, but once
again, our girl beat the odds. Meanwhile, the dialysis itself
was causing a problem. She needed a transplant, but so did
89,000 others. Her kidney specialist chose to put her on the
list for a kidney/pancreas transplant, which shortened the
waiting time appreciably.
On September 25, 2011, the call came. "It's time to go to
Nothing short of miraculous, the 20-year-old donor's organs were
a perfect match. Melissa came through the surgery in typical
survivalist mode. No more finger sticks, insulin injections, or
dialysis. A life-saving measure for her and the best birthday
present I ever received.
***Dahris H. Clair is a multi-published writer whose work
has appeared in regional quarterlies, several anthologies,
national magazines and online e-zines, such as Yesterday's
Magazette. She is the author of the novel, The House on
Slocum Road, former editor of The Mainlands 7 News,
and freelance columnist for a New Jersey weekly newspaper. She
is the founder and senior editor of The Infinite Writer