A Looong Quarantine

In case you’re interested in people who are not quite the age to be high risk, but are high risk because of underlying health issues, here’s what my future looks like.

First, I am double high risk, because I’m a kidney transplant patient and my immune system is suppressed and because I have diabetes. For high-risk people like me, getting covid-19 is most likely a death sentence, because of how it brutalizes the organs, including my one functioning kidney.

I’ve been informed by my specialist that I will have to remain quarantined until there is a vaccine that I can take. Many vaccines are what are called live virus, where they actually put in a small amount of the virus in you as part of the vaccine. I cannot have those types of vaccines. So we would have to wait for a non-live virus vaccine. That could be in a few months and it could be a year from now. There is no specific timeline for that.

So I will have to continue to socially distance, mask up, and not go where there are crowds. This also greatly limits my job opportunities, since I was laid off in March. Obviously the only jobs that I can do are remote. But at least it gives me guidance as what I need to focus on.

I hope this helps you understand the impact of this pandemic on folks like me…

My 4-Year Kidney-versary!

Today marks 4 years since my kidney transplant. Massive gratitude & love to my donors: Family friend Emory Gibbons who offered to donate but wasn’t a match. So she donated her kidney to Laurie Troxell in Colorado so Glenn “Croc”81520127_10156806613583016_2582871337563324416_n Millar could donate his kidney to me. (Here’s the whole, amazing story.)

This has been the best year for me healthwise in 6 years. The new kidney consistently gets two thumbs up from my medical team. My strength has been returning and has allowed me more stamina and the ability to be more physically active, which has made me feel even better.

There are many resulting issues from the disease, but I’m vertical every morning. The transplant has given me more time with my family, friends, and in this amazing world God has created. For that, I am so thankful for God’s mercy and care. I’ve learned not to take good health for granted, and to soak in all that comes my way.

God is good.

THREE YEARS.

IT’S MY 3-YEAR KIDNEY-VERSARY!!!

That’s right, 3 years ago today I received new life in the form of a transplanted kidney. It saved – and radically improved – my life.

I met with my nephrologist (kidney doctor) in October and she gave me 2 thumbs way up on the condition of the previously-owned kidney. All my regular test numbers have been stable for a long time.  Unfortunately, the 2 years of treatment and dialysis, and now 3 years of recovery have, as my doc said, deprogrammed my body from activity. That’s why I still fatigue pretty easily. I’ve been able to push it here and there, and survive. So, she now has me on a regular routine of increasing activity to strengthen my body and stamina.

I’ve found that my senses have been on overdrive this week, leading up to this anniversary, much more so than the previous 2 anniversaries. Probably because there’s way less recovering, which has made more room for reflecting. Alotta misty moments. As the kids say, I’m feeling all the feels.

Stacy and I decided that survivor afterglow encourages deep gratitude…so blessed beyond what I deserve.

Deep gratitude for those who made this renewed life possible – the amazing people in my kidney chain, especially the donors – Breelyn, Emory & Glenn; the medical nurses, doctors, surgeons, technicians, pharmacists, coordinators; good friends who supported me in countless ways; family who stood with me, sometimes carrying me; a wife who fought for me, did things for and to me that I know she never imagined she would have to, loved me in ways never expected, and is still standing through a lot of trauma, unknowing, and anxiety; and to God my Father, who dished out a load of mercy when needed, comfort in times of intense darkness, and unconditional love at every turn.

So many of you were – and continue to be – part of the overwhelming cloud that covered us through this journey, offering thoughts and prayers that were mysteriously felt and strengthening. I can never say thank you enough.

2019 will continue to be a year of transformation…and alotta gratitude. I cannot wait.

 

 

Joni.

This is Joni, my angel dialysis nurse from 4 years ago. She helped bring me back from the brink of death to a more functional, healthier place so I could get through a tough pre-transplant process. Had a beautiful, short visit with her today.

She, and her fellow nurses, give life to so many people with hard lives. She will always be an important part of our story…

 

Two thumbs up!

I had my routine, 2-year biopsy two weeks ago. Then at this week’s meeting with the team at Scripps, I got two thumbs up for my two-year check-up!

My kidney biopsy is clean and still no signs of my body trying to fight off the new kidney. Now only annual office visits from here on. (And no more biopsies!)

Pretty emotional with all this news. Very reflective on this journey of the last few years. I already considered myself very blessed by God, but somehow that got dialed way up and I ended up with TWO families – of course Stacy and the kids, who were so supportive through this journey; AND my Kidney Family, those in my kidney chain and their loved ones (a dozen beautiful people!). And my amazing cloud of friends & extended family humbles me with their undying support.

God is good. Life is good.

Below are the plaques on the Living Donor wall at Scripps Green Hospital for Emory, who donated her kidney on my behalf so I could get the kidney I needed from Glenn.

Preach.

This is more of a follow-up to my earlier update this week. This morning I delivered a message to my home church, reflecting on the last 4 years and the crazy roller coaster of kidney disease.

My wonderful daughter Tiffany videotaped the whole thing – just a tad longer than a sitcom, though probably not as funny.

Hope it brings hope to folks who need to hear it…

 

Health Update

A buncha people have been asking for an update, so here goes. But first…

On a particular dark day in my kidney disease journey – way before the transplant – I got a divinely-appointed phone call from my pastor – and good friend – Brian. After he talked me off the ledge, so to speak, and after my head started to clear, I said, “There’s a sermon in all this somewhere.” His response was, “Just tell me when you’re ready!” Two months ago I did, and it’s happening a week from today on August 27, 10:00 am at my church, Community Covenant Church, 1835 Granite Hills Dr. El Cajon, CA 92019: http://communitycovenantchurch.org/

You are invited.

Now, to our regularly-scheduled update: The summary is that the new kidney is 100% and I’m probably at 65%. This recovery has been sloooow. But each month I can see improvements – milestones, like doing something I haven’t been able to do for 4 years. Those are very encouraging.

I came into this year really hoping it was be the turnaround year. But frankly, the first 5 months were brutal. I seemed to pick up every sickness I met, and worse than I’ve experienced in years. (Thanks immune suppression.) Then I had an arthritis attack in my right knee, and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both knees. (Thanks prednisone.) Top all that off with a bout with shingles, very common for transplant patients. (And we can’t get the vaccination, because of immune-suppression.) All of this brought with it 2 prednisone tapers, and all the side effects I’m intimately acquainted with.

All in all a pretty depressing – and painful – time.

But June started to see improvements and it’s been better and better each week since. Still some fatigue and lack of stamina, but improvements there, too. (Like I’ve played 2 full rounds of golf in the last couple month!)

Bottom line…I’M ALIVE!! And grateful to God, Stacy, my family and friends. I am a blessed man and more aware of that than ever.

I get periodic lab tests and doctor appointments, but less and less as time goes by. Two-year biopsy will happen first part of next year.

Thanks for your support!

Mike

KidFam!

An AMAZING night with my kidney family! Many converged on Palm Desert for Coachella, so Emory flew down and we drove out this morning. Our first time meeting the spectacular Bree, the altruistic donor who.started the chain that saved my life and Heather’s. Very fun and emotional time with these lovely folks who truly are family.

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deepBreath

Biopsy report: The kidney is VERY happy. (Thanks Glenn for such a great one!) No signs of rejection. No abnormal scarring.  One year is a big milestone that I am thankful for. (Last biopsy will be at the 2-year mark.)

SO thankful to God for His grace and sustenance; to Stacy for her undying love and advocacy; my family for helping me feel normal (well, Atkinson normal) through this; my other kidney chain family members; and to our church, my work, and all our friends for your massive support and prayers.

Now, excuse me while I fully embrace this wonderful life I’ve been gifted.

The Kidney Poem

This was written by the wonderful man that I got my new kidney from, Glenn ‘Croc’ Millar. Perfection!

We have a lot of body parts
And many come in pairs
Arms and legs and lungs and eyes
And yet we cannot share

But then there are your kidneys
And it is now well known
That this amazing organ
Works quite well alone

Which means that if you have a friend
Who needs a new kid-ney.
You can give him one of yours
And again, he’ll get to pee.

Donating is easy
You’ll never miss this part
And you’ll get something in return
A piece of someone’s heart.

ONE-YEAR KIDNEYVERSARY!

That’s right, one year ago today I received my new kidney that saved my life. How can it feel like 10 years ago AND yesterday?? I’m much more emotional than I thought I’d be – have been for a few days. It’s been a long 3-year journey – autoimmune disease diagnosis, treatment, kidney failure, dialysis, transplant, rejection, treatment, recovery. But those are just steps along the way.

Here are two much more important elements of my journey:

People – my Angel Wife, Stacy (without whom I would not be alive), my children, extended family, friends, church, work, medical professionals, fellow patients – and, of course, my partners in our amazing Kidney Chain: Amy, who’s death from cystic fibrosis inspired cousin Breelynn Horn to be an altruistic kidney donor; Heather Kantor who received Breelyn’s kidney; Emory Fuqua who donated her kidney on my behalf to Laurie Dietrichson Troxell in Colorado; and my brother-from-another-mother, Glenn Croc Millar, who donated on behalf of Heather, and gave me his kidney. (I know that’s confusing – here’s a better explanation)

Impact – people have been asking me a legitimate question: Am I glad 2016 is almost over? First, I’m typically not one to regret. What happens happens – it’s our response to it that matters. Second, every step along this journey has become part of my DNA. It has imprinted the experiences on my spirit. It has fundamentally changed me in so many ways. My perspective on life and the future has been transformed. God has worked each step for my good, who is more concerned with my inside (WHO I am) rather than all the outside parts working right.

All signs point to my new kidney doing great. I’ll have my one-year biopsy next week to confirm. Recovery from the rejection treatments and my body just getting used to this new normal has been a sloooow process. I’ve only started to feel significant improvements in my strength and stability over the last 5 weeks, which made for a much happier Christmas.

We are so thankful to God for His grace and mercy through this, and to all our friends around the world for their support and prayers.

A new Christmas

Last month I told Stacy that since I haven’t been able to celebrate Christmas very well that last 3 years, I WILL be wringing every ounce out of it this year. I’ve drug her to parties, receptions, and festivities almost every day this month. It is filling my Christmas tank – my fave season of the year.

I even got to pick the Christmas tree theme – Peppermint! Love my wife’s glorious trees. Makes me emotional each time I look at it.

So grateful for the gift of life.

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