Fifteen years to freedom

Angelia McCormick was sick, tired and hopeless. But a new kidney has brought her a new life

by Jessica Carreras

Eight hours a day. Three to four days a week. Every week. Fifteen years.

For Angelia McCormick, a 38-year-old woman from Detroit, going through kidney dialysis was as much a part of her life as going to work, making dinner, or brushing her teeth.

McCormick was living in South Carolina in 1994 when she went to the doctor for what she thought was a cold. At the time, she was working two jobs and weighed 417 pounds. "(The doctor) asked me if I had a headache and I said no," she recalls. "And he said, 'Well, basically, you're going to stroke out. You have no kidney function and had you not come in here today, you would have died tonight."

Her battle against kidney failure is one that has spanned almost half of her life, but she came out the clear winner.

Wake-up call

That week, McCormick continued to experience the wake-up call that she never saw coming. She lost 70 pounds of fluid through continual dialysis treatments that drained her body of the waste that had been building up. "Some people take for granted going to the bathroom," she explains. "With me working two jobs, it just never dawned on me that I wasn't urinating like I was supposed to because I was running so much. Basically it boiled down to that I had not urinated in over a week. I had not realized it."

In the months following her kidney failure diagnosis, McCormick's life became a shell of what it used to be. The once vibrant, constantly going, social woman left her job at the American Red Cross, left South Carolina to move to Michigan and live with her mother and fell into a deep depression. She had no partner at the time and allowed herself very little support. "I didn't want to talk to anybody. I didn't want to see anybody," McCormick says of that time. "I would go to dialysis and come home and just get into bed and under the covers."

But thankfully, things changed.

Getting her life back

One day, a social worker spoke to McCormick about her obvious depression. It was a conversation that changed her life. "She told me 'This doesn't have to be the end of your life,'" McCormick remembers. "And that's when the bells and the lights and everything went off saying OK, I can do this and I can still work. I can do this and I can still vacation. She just really talked to me and educated me about dialysis. That this doesn't have to be it for me."

And it wasn't. It had been almost half a year since her diagnosis, and McCormick was ready to take her life back.

Gradually, she began to go back to work, now in Michigan for a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. "I met beautiful people who understood that I'm not 100-percent healthy," she says of that job, "and if I had a problem I'd just call and say 'I can't come today.'"

Also, in 2004, she met Marian Bryant, now her girlfriend of four years.

McCormick was back with full force, even though she was still overweight and without any kidney function. "I did dialysis for 15 years, but it didn't stop me. It didn't slow me down," she says. "I enjoyed working and it got to the point where dialysis was enjoyable for me because you get closer to the people there than your own family. I see these people every other day."

Still, her new friends and new life couldn't hide the fact that dialysis controlled her life. So about a year ago, she made another tough decision: she wanted to have a kidney transplant.

Gain and loss

In the summer of 2007, McCormick began grappling with her fear of having a kidney transplant. She had known others who had died during the surgery and was afraid. "At the time, I was used to dialysis. I was scared of anything else," she explains. "I know dialysis. I know the machine. I know how I feel when I get off and I deal with that. I was intimidated by the transplant. I really was."

Despite her fear, she knew it was time. McCormick was put on the transplant waiting list. However, her doctors told her that first, she'd have to lose more weight. So in February of this year, she had gastric bypass surgery.

She was approved in April and, on June 2, McCormick got the call that changed her life. She had a kidney. "I felt warm all over," she says of that day.

Donated from an 11-year-old boy who had died in an auto accident, McCormick went in for surgery just hours after receiving the call.

Her surgery went off without a hitch. However, McCormick awoke to find that her mother, who was living in Alabama, was also in the hospital with a prognosis less optimistic than her daughter's.

On the afternoon after her surgery, McCormick's mother's doctor called her to say that her mother's heart rate was very high. "I asked if I could talk to her, and (the doctor) said sure, and I could hear him running down the hall," McCormick recalls. "And I said, 'Mom, I got a kidney and it's working and I'm fine.'

"Four hours later, she passed."

McCormick gained her life back, but in the same day, she lost one of the most important people in it. The feeling, she said, was "bittersweet."

"It took me a while to understand that she wasn't here anymore," McCormick adds. "It even took me a while to register that I wasn't going to dialysis. Since everything happened so fast, I didn't have a chance to think about what was going on.

"But I know that my mom knows that I'm OK."

Life since the surgery

It has been almost three months since McCormick received her new kidney, and check ups show that her body is healthy and adjusting well. "It's unreal. Unreal is the only thing I can think of," she says of her life since the transplant. "I have so much energy. My girlfriend says I never sit down, and I try not to. I'm still losing weight and I feel great."

Bryant, 44, says that watching McCormick go through this has given her a new appreciation for her own health. "It's a learning experience for a healthy person because they don't understand what a 'non-healthy' person goes through," she explains. "Where I'm complaining about maybe having a headache, here they are with a whole new lifestyle that they have to learn and deal with...I can never say that I'll know how she feels, but it's just amazing to know what she goes through."

Thankfully, for McCormick, she doesn't have to go through it anymore. Soon, she'll begin working for Sprint, and in September, she'll see the doctor who will decide if she is in the clear. And with a new life ahead of her, McCormick is thankful that she received the wake-up call some 15 years ago that, at the time, she thought had ruined her life. "It was really a way of the Lord saying 'You need to slow down and take a look at yourself.' And I did. I really did."

Now, when she looks, she likes what she sees.

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