Heather Tillotson's Story
At the age of four I was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, which meant lifestyle changes that affected not only me but my entire family. Injections, a strict diet and timely meals were just a few of the changes that would become a way of life for all of us. Being selected the 1986-87 Poster Child for the American Diabetes Association was an honor. Despite diabetes, I led a near-normal life growing up - thriving in school, taking part in sports and extracurricular activities, graduating from college with a degree in elementary education and a coaching endorsement, landing my dream job and marrying a wonderful, supportive man.
Eventually, I began experiencing problems often associated with diabetes - laser surgery on my eyes, neuropathy in my feet, gastroparesis, coronary artery disease and kidney failure. Doctors' visits and sick days became more frequent. Words cannot describe how I felt when informed of my declining kidney function and the possibility of dialysis. How could I teach and be on dialysis? Options were discussed and, at the suggestion of my physician, an appointment was made at The University of Nebraska Medical Center to be evaluated for placement on the National Registry for Organ Transplant.
The week-long appointment was set. My husband, Chris, and my parents took time off from work to be with me, school was out for the summer and I would have the entire summer to focus on my health issues. Little did I know! To make a long story short, my summer was spent recovering from heart stent surgery, learning to do peritoneal dialysis and visiting numerous specialists. With constant support from Chris and the care of many talented professionals, I was able to return to teaching that August. I was feeling better than I had in a long time, and my name was also added to the transplant list.
Now fast forward to the morning of April 26, 2007. It was the first morning I hadn't thought, "Maybe today is the day!" I can't begin to describe the emotions I felt after receiving the call. The two-hour drive to Omaha gave me time to reflect. Hopeful that the wait was over. Concerned that I may not be a match. Apprehensive about the surgery. Worried about my husband and family if surgery did not go well. Sadness for the family who had lost a loved one. Guilt that I would possibly gain from that loss. Grateful . . . oh, so grateful! Thankful for the very capable doctors and professionals who had gotten me this far AND were waiting for my arrival at Nebraska Medicine.
The next morning, on April 27, 2007, I received a kidney/pancreas transplant, which I consider to be no less than a MIRACLE. Since that day, I have been insulin and dialysis free! I am teaching and enjoying newfound energy. We have begun the adoption process, knowing we have much to offer as parents. I am blessed with a loving and supportive husband who stands at my side always; family and friends who pray for me; a network of understanding coworkers and supportive administrators; the knowledge and talents of doctors, nurses, coordinators and professional staff who continue to provide exceptional post transplant care.
I have so much to be thankful for! My husband honors me by wearing a green bracelet, which signifies kidney transplant. My husband and parents display a green ribbon on their vehicles with the word BELIEVE written across it. The next time you see an organ transplant insignia, please say a couple of prayers - one in memory of all the donors who have given so much and one giving thanks for the EXTRAORDINARY CARE Nebraska Medicine provides. We are fortunate to have a facility of this caliber in Nebraska.