Cars lined the road to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dianne Barrett’s kidney transplant on Saturday. It was a day she only dreamed of as a teen those many years ago. Her story is remarkable.
When Barrett was 16-years-old, she was on a church trip to Six Flags when she noticed her feet were swollen after the long drive. Thinking it was from sitting during the trip, she elevated them and the swelling went down. At the time, the teenager didn’t think anything else about it.
Several years later, while attending the University of Memphis, Barrett again took a road trip with some friends and after traveling her feet were swollen again. Only this time, she began to worry as she had also picked up weight.
Once home Barrett’s mom recommended she go to a podiatrist who told her it had nothing to do with her feet, it was a kidney problem. He advised her to go see an internal medicine doctor. She did and was told her kidneys were failing and that she’d need a kidney transplant in about three or four years. It was a shocking diagnosis. Barrett said, “I was young and carefree and that was hard to hear. No one in my family had ever had kidney trouble. I started going to a lot of doctors. As a student and old enough to no longer be on my parents’ insurance, I found myself uninsured. Doctors pumped me full of Lasix and I got up to 300 pounds and spent two years in a wheelchair.”
Barrett contends it was then she went to Saint Francis Hospital and found the answers she was looking for. She explained, “I went for another opinion and saw Dr. Al Swamy at Saint Francis Hospital who saved my life. He said I had end stage renal disease and needed to be on dialysis, which I immediately started three days a week. After many months, he told me I’d be a good candidate for home dialysis (peritoneal), which I did and it was great.”
It was the early part of 1991 when Barrett went to see Dr. Swamy for a regular checkup that she was given the news it was time for a kidney transplant. Barrett said, “I had gotten enough fluid off, I lost over 100 pounds and was ready for a transplant. I started crying. All of my siblings, five sisters and one brother, everybody wanted to give me a kidney. We all went to the transplant center to get tested. The staff there said they had never had that many people get tested to give one person a kidney. They said my sister Geneva Cochran (who’s three years older) and I were a perfect match. The surgery was scheduled for April 23, 1991.”
Barrett continued, “I was excited and my emotions were all over the place. I was 26-years-old by then, scared, yet trusting. When we got to the hospital I suggested we take a walk, as I was really getting nervous. Unlike me, Geneva seemed so calm. I met a lady while walking who asked me what I was doing there and I told her I was getting a transplant the next day. She said I have one question for you: Do you believe in God? My answer was yes as I had been brought up in a Christian home. After that, I was no longer nervous; I went upstairs and right to sleep. I slept until they came to get us for surgery the next morning. After surgery I came back to the room and found my family and friends…my whole entourage was with us in the hospital.”
Dr. Santiago Vera and Dr. A. Osama Gaber performed the surgeries at was then UT Bowld. Barrett said, “Following surgery, Dr. Vera told us the kidney was working well. My mama was so relieved as she had been pacing back and forth. She had never had two children under the knife at one time. Doctors told me a kidney from a living related donor would probably last 10 or 13 years.”
Barrett’s sister and kidney donor, Geneva Cochran said, “I remember we all went to get tested and Dianne and I were a perfect match. The doctors said we were exactly the same except she was tall (5’11”) and I was short (4’ 11”). At the time I wasn’t afraid. I was ready as long as my husband and kids were good with it and they were. The people at my job were supportive too. The surgery went great and as soon as it was over the first thing I asked was, Where’s my sister? They told me she’s coming up from surgery as I went first. I stayed in the hospital two days and Dianne a little longer. I’ve had no trouble at all since then.”
Returning home, Barrett said it was if she had been given a second chance at life. She smiled, “No more dialysis, no more wheelchair. It’s a feeling of gratefulness. I tell Geneva all the time how grateful I am for her. I always want to go the extra mile for her. She says you don’t owe me anything but it seems like I do. I know I owe it first and foremost to God. I take my medicine on time, try not to eat salty foods, and not gain weight. When I got her kidney I told her I’d do everything I could to preserve it. I told her I wouldn’t drink any alcohol and I haven’t. Here I am 30 years later and I’ve experienced no rejection at all.”
Cochran said, “I would definitely do it again. You give them a gift of life that goes on and on. It’s made us so much closer. My life has gone on like nothing ever happened. I never even think about it. I do every activity and it hasn’t kept me from anything.” Still her sister credits her with saving her life. She gives all the glory to God first, but then Barrett thanks her sister and Saint Francis Hospital.
A reception was held as the ladies stood outside and waved at friends and neighbors on Sunday celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the kidney transplant. They were both thankful for another healthy day.
After reading this story, those encouraged to register to become organ and tissue donors so more lives can be saved, are asked to visit MidSouthTransplant.org. There are more than 108,000 Americans on the national waiting list and more than 4,000 in the Mid-South. One organ and tissue donor can save up to eight lives, restore sight to two people and enhance the lives of more than 75 people.