It has been approximately 6 1/2 years since Shalonda Yvette Todd underwent a double-lung and single kidney transplant after being diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic, systemic autoimmune disease.
This 48-year-old special-education teacher and grandmother of two is not slowing down. I have found a new life with the new organs after the triple transplant.
I participated in the softball throw during the Transplant Games of America in 2012, an Olympics-like event held in Grand Rapids, Mich and 2014 a variety of sporting events in Houston, Texas.
The experience itself was awesome! Just to know that someone like me, who has been brought through so much hardship can persevere.
I was diagnosed with scleroderma in 2005. The disease had attacked my internal organs and lung functions.
I had never really been sick at that point, other than a common cold. My local doctor kept telling me I had bronchitis. I finally said no and went to a specialist.
By 2007, I was on oxygen 24/7 and doing breathing exercises three times a week at a Houston rehab where I had relocated to be closer to family while awaiting the transplants.
I knew my breathing had gotten worse, and I was having to turn the oxygen up. I couldn’t go places by myself. I needed people to take me places, and I was in and out of the hospital. I couldn’t walk or do much without having shortness of breath.
Chemotherapy and other medicines did little to slow the disease down.
By 2009, my condition had worsened. I was going through 15-22 oxygen tanks a month.
My lungs were like those of a 40-year-old smoker, and I had never smoked. I was going downhill. My doctor told me I was not getting any better. “I was beating down death’s door!” Doctors were concerned about my weight and put me on a feeding tube to help me lose the weight. I needed to reduce the stress on my body before the transplant.
That was the beginning of an uphill battle. I was mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted. At that point I was telling God, I was ready if he was ready for me.
I received the call that changed my life on Sept. 21, 2009, after being on the transplant waiting list for less than six weeks.
I feel fortunate and blessed. There were people who had been on the waiting list for four years and hadn’t gotten a match. God blessed me and that was awesome!
Doctors at the Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center in Houston had found a match for both my lungs and a kidney from the same donor — a man in his late 20’s who died in a car accident.
I underwent a 15-hour surgery the next day and remained in an induced coma in ICU for a week.
I know very little about my donor, but I am grateful for the gift of life. I write to his family every year around the anniversary of the transplant. I hope to meet the family one day.
I want to tell them that their family member is living through me and I am going to take care of these organs to the best of my ability.
I don’t need the oxygen tanks anymore. I can breath good on my own, and I can walk where I want without getting short of breath.
After the transplant, I was in the hospital for four weeks and in a rehab center for two more weeks. It took me two years to completely recover.
It was a rough road after that because sometimes I’d get a very high fever and nauseated.
Infections kept me in and out of the hospital the first year after the transplant, but through it all I remained optimistic.
My mood and temperament was set on the fact that I was going to beat this and I was not giving up. I had too much to live for and if God brought me through the surgery, he had a purpose for my life.
My medications has been tapered down and I still have frequent doctor visits. I haven’t been in the hospital in almost a year and is moving forward with my life.
The transplant has changed my life due to the fact that I had to give up my teaching career for a while, but now I have returned to teaching profession.
I have been tutoring in my home for the last few years and received my Masters Degree in Education – School Counseling in May 2012.
I got involved in the Transplant Games by joining the Team Texas track and field squad.
I didn’t win a gold medal, but I placed within the Top 10. Most people took the competition very serious. Some, like me, just went to have a good time and to show people that we are not giving up on our lives.
Competing in the games is evidence that transplant patients can go on to live normal lives, Dr. A. Osama Gaber, director of the Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center, said in a news release.
“To see how sick many of these patients are before transplant and how they are now healthy enough to physically compete is a triumph for these amazing people,” Gaber said.
I made a lot of friends during the weeklong event, and is looking forward to returning to the next games in 2016.
I was able to go through the transplants and still participate in sporting events. Some people, once they are sick, don’t want to chance hurting themselves or getting anything out of place. I’m still young and I am willing. There’s nothing that I can’t do.
I have always been religious, and this near-death experience has made my faith much stronger.
God has now proved himself to me, and my relationship is now closer with Him. I have every reason to praise him!