Kentucky woman thankful for organ donors, new chance at life

Thankful for a life-changing anniversary

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- It's that time of year where the temperature and leaves begin to fall and thanksgiving abound.


"I am thankful for a lot of things. I'm thankful for a really, really sweet writing job," Lynn Hamilton said. "I am grateful for my husband, oh so grateful. I'm grateful for my animals, my three cats and dog."


For Hamilton, 59, the number of blessings can be hard to count around Thanksgiving, but there is one blessing in particular that stands out this year.


"We talked a lot about how this was the best Thanksgiving gift we could have possibly gotten," she said. "And also the best Christmas gift too. and also the best gift I've ever gotten. Period."


Hamilton had polycystic kidney and liver disease, a hereditary disease she was born with. She said her father passed away from the disease and she received her diagnosis in her mid-30s during an unrelated MRI scan, but did not feel the symptoms of the disease until recently.


"I really had a very rich and full life up until 2013 and then I started having problem," she said.


Hamilton said symptoms included vomiting, fluid buildup and weakness among others. Doctors told her she would eventually need a kidney and liver transplant, something she said she tried putting off as long as she could to avoid the operation.


"The first thing that I said to myself was I'm going to do everything in my power to avoid that and to delay it as long as I possibly can. So I did absolutely everything that my doctor told me to do," she said. "At one point, I was drinking four liters of water a day."


Her symptoms would worsen, eventually leading her to the Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center, where her team of doctors, including Dr. Eric Davis, convinced her of the benefits of a transplant operation, which according to Davis, have higher than 90 percent success rates when it comes to kidneys and livers.


"When liver transplant first started, it was a flip of a coin, but with time, everything has gotten better," Davis, a transplant surgeon at the University of Louisville Jewish Hospital Transplant Center said.


"That made me a lot happier about the procedure," Hamilton said. "Of course it's scary, but knowing that I had a really, really good chance of having a normal life afterwards really helped."


Hamilton was placed on the transplant list in March 2016, awaiting a donor. Less than a year later, she received the call two days before Thanksgiving.


"I was expecting it to take another year and a half, so I was very surprised to get the phone call," she said. "I hadn't packed my suitcase like you're supposed to do."


Hamilton said she rushed to the hospital where doctors began the operation. She said she woke up four days later, having missed Thanksgiving but having plenty to be thankful for.


"You know last year at this time when my husband said, 'Oh hon, you want to get tickets to some concert in Cincinnati in March?'" she said. "I was like, 'You really think I'm going to be alive that long?' And now we're thinking about solar panels - it takes 20 years to pay them off."


She said in the year following her operation, her strength has returned as her symptoms disappeared, allowing her to live her life like she had before.


"I would say that I have the same energy I had over 10 years ago," she said.


"I have no medical explanation for this, but not only do patients feel younger, they actually look younger," Davis said.


But above all that she has to be thankful for, at the top of her lists are the donor and the families making the tough decisions.


"The gift of life to keep life going in those recipients is a huge gift," Davis said. "That is the only good that can come of someone dying a sudden death, them becoming an organ donor. Their transplant, them living a normal, healthy life is really the only silver lining that can come of that."


"Really seriously, they are the heroes of my story because in the midst of their grief and mourning for the loss of their loved one, they had a thought to be generous to somebody else," she said.


Hamilton said she has been a registered organ donor for decades ever since she learned of the program, but she said having been a first-hand beneficiary of organ donation has changed her perspective, especially when it comes to the families of the organ donors.


"Organ donation is the way you truly become immortal or at least the way you live on and you give back to somebody else," she said.


For more information on organ donation or how to become a donor, you can visit the Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center's website (http://www.kentuckyonehealth.org/transplant-care) or Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (http://www.kyorgandonor.org).

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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