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Traci Evans Simmons

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Photo: Jon Strayhorn

Waiting for a Lifesaving Operation

By Traci Evans Simmons, as told to Melba Newsome

I never thought the coronavirus pandemic would impact my ability to get a new kidney, but it did.

My Kidney problems started about 20 years ago when doctors diagnosed me with a hereditary kidney disease that I had never even heard of before. My kidneys continued to deteriorate, and in 2017, my lab results indicated that I needed dialysis, and eventually a transplant. I was turned down for the wait list twice, but two years ago, Wake Forest Baptist Health agreed to add me to its kidney transplant wait list.

The average wait time for a transplant used to be between three and five years, even longer for Black people. When COVID hit, hospitals canceled or delayed elective surgeries, including live-donor transplants, for nearly two months. There were also fewer deceased donors because stay-at-home orders reduced the number of trauma-related deaths caused by car and motorcycle crashes, swimming and other accidents. 

Some transplant programs stopped accepting organs from donors who either tested positive for the virus or been exposed to it. A lot of people on the transplant list even turned down organs because they feared being exposed to COVID.

Having a chronic health problem means my own mortality is never far from my mind. I’ve had to adjust to the new normal of life in a pandemic, with the added stress of waiting for a lifesaving operation to happen. I could cut my wait time if I accepted a kidney from a donor with hepatitis C. There is medicine to prevent getting an infection, but that makes me nervous. I’ve rescheduled my appointment with the nephrologist and transplant team several times. Although each day waiting for a kidney means another day of deteriorating health, I’m still afraid to move ahead.

We’re all in this together 

I haven’t been to a department store since March. I have eaten out three times. We sat outside and I was still nervous. I returned to working in the office, with a lot of precautions, in July. I went to the grocery store a few times in September and early October, but now that the number of cases is going up again, I only go to work and home.

We were supposed to go the Vegas for my 50th birthday, but the pandemic put an end to that. My dad’s birthday would have been a big-deal celebration, but we had to settle for a drive-by party.

Still, I realize how fortunate I am and how much I have to be grateful for. I have a very supportive family, and we still have our jobs. I have a nice church that I’d like to go back to one day soon. I have a loving, peaceful home, and I don’t mind being there. I feel bad for people who have to go through a lockdown but don’t have a positive or happy home life.

I get upset because people won’t stay in though, and the mask wars really trouble me. 

Scientist and doctors say that we’d save lives if we would wear masks, so why not try? I don’t understand how a medical crisis got focused on the political. Of all the things to stand up or speak out against, of all the injustices in the world, why this? You’re not just on this planet by yourself. Think about the person next to you.

To our readers: We’ve long known about Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on Black communities across America. At QCity Metro, our mission dictates that we document that reality. But even amidst a pandemic, we also find stories of hope, inspiration and perseverance. This series is dedicated to telling those stories.

Our “Portraits of Perseverance” series is funded by the Facebook Journalism Project and sponsored locally by OrthoCarolina. To share your Covid story, email editor@qcitymetro.com with the word “Portraits” in the subject line.

This article has 2 comments.

  1. Traci, as a kidney transplant recipient (2019), I want you to know I’m praying for you. I also want to tell you that I opted for a Hep-C kidney and I couldn’t be happier that I did. Just an extra pill for 3 months and it was gone, with no symptoms at all. Something for you to consider. I wish you well. You’re in my prayers.

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