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  I grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas and finished high school in Greenwood, about 70 miles south of there.  After graduating from the U of A in 1986, I did what thousands of college grads from Arkansas do—headed to the city.  First, it was Tampa, then Kansas City, Dallas, and briefly in Austin before fate brought me back to the Ozarks. 

    
After growing up diabetic, complications from the disease started in my late twenties.  I probably would have stayed in
Austin a long time.  It was a lot like Fayetteville, but bigger. 

    
My life has been anything but ordinary, which is why I have titled my book “No Ordinary Life.”  Actually, it’s been pretty intense.

    
In the fall of 1991 I had to move back in with my parents while I underwent a series of laser treatments to save my vision.  But, I had internal eye hemorrhages in both eyes, which required major eye surgery to correct.  To have vision restored to an eye that was totally blind is nothing short of a miracle.  I experienced this a total of four times—twice in each eye.

    
Once my vision was stable, I lived on my own in
Fayetteville during most of the 90s.  As vocational rehabilitation, the state paid for me to attend White River School of Massage.  I also substitute taught for Fayetteville Public Schools.  If “Welcome Back, Kotter” had been a substitute, you can imagine what it was like being in my old junior high and high school.

    
But, my kidneys were gradually failing, also due to the diabetes.  In 1997, I moved to
Tulsa to be near the hospital where I was listed for a kidney transplant.  There, I lived on my own while doing peritoneal dialysis.  I even managed to work part-time doing massage therapy and used public transit (or my feet) to get around.  Looking back, I can’t believe I did that.  It was probably the hardest time of my life.

    
What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.

    
Fate was about to surprise me again.  This time in a very positive way.  I learned that some transplant centers were giving diabetics a new pancreas when they received a kidney.  For over twenty years, I lived with the understanding that insulin shots, blood testing, and a restricted diet were part of my life forever. 

    
On
April 6, 1998 I received a new kidney and pancreas at OU Med Center in Oklahoma City.  My life changed in ways I had never imagined—or dared to hope for.


There were a few complications with the surgery.  I experienced nerve damage in my left leg and both hands.  The kidney was slow to start working.  Not only did I have to recover from major surgery, I could barely use my hands and had to learn to walk again—while carrying several pounds of extra fluid on my body.


What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.
    
After 23 days, I got to come home.  Something else amazing happened that spring.  I experienced an outpouring of generosity unlike anything else in my entire life.

    
Because there hadn’t been many pancreas transplants in
Oklahoma at that time (I was only the seventh kidney/pancreas), Medicare would only cover the kidney transplant.  I needed to raise $50,000 for the pancreas.  Friends planned several fund-raising events for me.  Suddenly, people I’d never met knew my situation and pitched in to help and/or donate money.  They raised all the funds I needed.  I’ll never be able to thank them enough.

    
After a couple of years back in
Fayetteville, I moved to Little Rock.  There, I had a funky loft apartment in a 1920s era printing and litho building downtown in the River Market District.  My job at a health club was just two blocks away—perfect for a visually impaired guy with no car. 


My body was in the best shape of my life.  I started doing art again after several years.  Growing up, I had artistic talent, but as I grew older, I used it less.  A pastels class showed me that I could still draw, in spite of being legally blind.  In 2002, I took a special class for visually impaired people who wanted to learn Miscrosoft Word.  Life was moving along in a direction I liked.

    
In early 2003, my transplanted kidney failed.  It wasn’t unexpected.  In fact, I was taking steps to be listed for a new one.  Still, it was a huge letdown.  This time, my body didn’t tolerate peritoneal dialysis, so I had to do hemodialysis.  Three times a week, I spent three hours hooked up to a machine that cleansed my blood and pumped it back into me.  The treatments made me too sick to stay on my own.  It was depressing, to say the least.

 

What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.

    
Another big surprise was waiting for me.  Connie, my mother’s hairstylist offered to give me a kidney.  She had never met me, but Mom had told her about my situation.  She said God told her to do this. 
      
That summer, she underwent a series of tests to determine that she was a suitable donor.  While this was taking place, my vision gradually worsened.  For five years, I had lived without worry of my vision getting worse, because my new pancreas made insulin and kept my blood sugar normal.  I had accepted that the damage to my eyes wasn’t reversible, but it would remain at the level it was.

     
What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.

     
A month before the transplant was scheduled, I learned there was nothing that could be done to help my vision, which was deteriorating due to reduced blood flow to my eyes.  I focused on the upcoming surgery.


On
September 4, 2003 Connie and I each had surgery.  They took a kidney from her and gave it to me.  It started working right there on the operating room table, which is what happens in 97% of live kidney donations.

    
It’s hard to believe now, but just after the surgery I went through a very deep depression.  Someone had just given me a kidney, but my vision had decreased significantly.  It was overwhelming. 

What I didn’t know then was that God put me here to write this book.  I knew when I started writing it that examining my life and sharing my experiences would change me and give me a better understanding of myself.  Throughout all of the suffering I endured, I often asked, “Why me?”

    
The answer?  Because this story was meant to be told.      

 

 

 

 

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