By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
The prognosis is upbeat for a retired Yukon educator who is on a steady road to recovery after a life-saving double organ transplant.
Past Yukon Public Schools’ district Teacher of the Year Kathy Davis now has two birthdays to celebrate each year.
“I have my regular birthday in January and then April 30 is my new birthday,” said Davis, who worked 40 years with YPS including 32 years as a classroom teacher and eight years as curriculum director.
Davis received a new liver and kidney on April 30 from an anonymous donor during a 10-hour transplant surgery performed at the Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
“I am so blessed to have been given this gift of life. I hope more people will consider being an organ donor,” she said this week. “My prospects of life are endless. As I get stronger, I’ll be able to get back doing the things I did before.
“I feel 100 percent better than I did before the transplant. Before, when I tried to walk, I couldn’t breathe. I had no energy. I didn’t realize, until just before the transplant, how sick I had gotten. I was starting to be jaundiced,” Davis added.
“Each day, I’m starting to feel a little stronger. Which is what we want to happen.”
Davis was diagnosed in 1997 with primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic disease in which the bile ducts of her liver were slowly destroyed. She had been in and out of the hospital since November 2018 and underwent dialysis treatment three times a week.
Because of the severity of her condition, Davis was at the top of the organ transplant list and waited a relatively short time for her new liver and kidney.
Davis was placed on the liver transplant list Feb. 1. While she was waiting, her sick liver destroyed her kidneys so she was added to the kidney transplant list a few weeks later.
“For me to get an organ as quick as I did, in April, is really unheard of,” she said.
About three weeks before the April 30th double-transplant surgery, Davis received an early-morning call directing her to come to the hospital because a liver donor had been found.
But after being admitted to the hospital and having blood work done, Davis had to return home when it was determined the new organ would not be viable.
“That was hard,” Davis said. “I went in thinking my life was going to change that day.”
But good things come to those who wait – and pray.
Three weeks later, another donor was located and everything worked out.
“I want to thank everyone for their prayers,” Davis said. “I’m a big believer in the power of prayer. I try to have people around me who help me keep that positive attitude.”
GETTING BACK ACTIVE AGAIN
After nearly a month in the hospital post-transplant, Davis was released May 24 to return home.
She is staying at her sister Josie Shipley’s house in Yukon with the great help of five primary caretakers: Neta Duke, Jaquita Icenhower, Kathleen Smith, Naomi Allen, and Shipley.
They volunteer in 12-hour shifts, which provides lots of quality bonding time. Davis greatly appreciates her caretakers’ support and encouragement but looks forward to getting her independence back.
“I’m kind of stubborn,” she said. “I want to get well. I want to do it myself.”
Duke, also a retired Yukon teacher, said Davis’ positive spirit and attitude help with her recovery.
Although she has in-home care, Davis said she tries to “do for myself” as much as possible. Just this past Sunday, for example, she was able to take a shower without anyone’s help for the first time.
She is getting steadier on her feet, but still must use a walker to get around.
“I do have to be careful because my balance isn’t perfect yet,” Davis said.
Davis spends much of the day in the living room sitting in a lift chair that also reclines so she can sleep comfortably. She hopes to be strong enough by the end of this week to get herself up and be able to sleep in a bed.
Davis looks forward to returning to outside activities like swimming, gardening, playing with her dogs, and walking; and going out to eat with friends.
One of Davis’ favorite pastimes is swimming and she realizes that would be great exercise for her. However, she can’t even sit in a pool or tub until her surgical incisions have fully healed.
For a month after being discharged, Davis would return to the hospital twice weekly for blood work and to meet with her surgeons who checked on her progress. After last Thursday’s clinic visit, she was told she’d only need to come back once a week because of her progress.
As Davis’ recovery progresses well, her doctors are positive about her prognosis. While in the intensive care unit after her transplant surgery, she had a brief setback due to pneumonia and a blood clot. So the fact that Davis is now ahead of the recovery schedule is remarkable.
“Both surgeons are pleased with what the organs are doing,” she said. “It’s amazing the difference it has made me feel.”
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
The support from well-wishers has been heart-warming.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” said Davis, who retired from YPS in 2017. “I have been getting five to eight cards every day from people all over the world.”
Through her Delta Kappa Gamma network (an international organization of current and retired educators), she has received constant well-wishes from Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Central America, and across the United States.
She regularly posts updates about her progress for her Facebook friends.
Doctors told Davis she’d need help from caretakers for about three months. But, because her recovery is ahead of schedule, she hopes to be back in her own home by July 1. She misses her five Schnauzers, who are being cared for by Hershel and Neta Duke while she recovers.
“Hopefully I’m going to keep progressing and I’m not going to have a problem with any rejection,” Davis said. “So far, everything is just going very smoothly.
“My eating habits have changed and everything – like my blood pressure – has to find a new normal.”
Davis is still on a heart-healthy, low-sodium diet.
“Before surgery, I was on a restricted water intake. I could have five, eight-ounce glasses of water a day. That was it. Now they want me drinking up to three liters to keep the new kidney flushed out.”
There are three fruits that she can no longer eat because they would interfere with her anti-rejection medication – grapefruit, pomegranate and blood-red oranges.
Davis commended the transplant team led by Dr. John Duffy and Dr. Vivek Kohli, the top transplant surgeons at Integris Baptist Medical Center.
“They are both phenomenal,” she said. “They came to see me every day to check on things. The care I received at Baptist was phenomenal. There was not any nurse, anyone, who was not spectacular. They were all kind and very helpful.”