Raquel and Jeff and The JeffWerx Transplant Fund

For several years now, Raquel and I have been scrimping and saving so that we can afford
a kidney transplant for Raquel (her kidneys were destroyed due to an irresponsible
prescription writer back in 2006).  She's an amazing person and spends her whole life
helping others...I truly believe the world needs her around.

I have been diabetic since 1973. This is what caused my eyes to finally fall apart in 2000,
and the accelerated wear and tear brought on by this disease has brought my own kidneys
to the point of being almost non-functioning.  My control of the diabetes averted these
complications greatly, but it caught up with me...hard.

Raquel dialyzes four times a week, and I'm with her there every night. Dialysis is a grueling
process. It is not a cure, but it buys people time.  Random problems crop up without warning
for dialysis patients regardless of how well you try to "control" the disease. I worked extra
diligently to stay off of dialysis because we knew that it would be logistically impractical for us
both to be on dialysis at the same time. If we were both on dialysis, and both of us happened
to have a "bad day" at the same time we couldn't very well manage to get each other into
wheelchairs and manage all the other issues that just seem to happen. We decided it made
the most sense to try and get my transplant done first to keep me off of dialysis. I would still
be able to give Raq the help she needs while I waited for my transplant, then Raq could help
me through the recovery period, and then when I became strong enough we'd get her
transplanted. That was the plan anyway.  I became weaker and sicker until finally I couldn't
follow a thought, or hold a memory, and eventually I couldn't walk and Raquel had to wheel
me into the Emergency Room.  They did blood work and told us that I had broken all kinds of
records just by being alive with such high levels of anemia and toxins in my blood; anyone
else would have just died.  And then I passed out.  When I woke up I was in the hospital with
a chest catheter  receiving dialysis. So much for our logical and carefully laid plans.  

The problem is that starving artists living paycheck to paycheck don't have a lot of financial
power to make these things like life-saving organ transplants possible. Thusly we're doing a
lot of things to raise money for our Transplant Fund. This page exists to offer an explanation
of what's going on, as well as to provide an easy way to contribute to the Transplant Fund.   

I'm doing a lot of projects with "suggested donations" rather than set prices.  PayPal is a
quick, safe, and easy way to transfer  money, and they don't take percentages for money
that is "gifted" the way they do for regular business transactions.  Also, if people really like
my work and want to donate a little more than the suggested donation, that would be
spectacular and very much appreciated by Raquel and myself.  
All text and images © J. Freels, 2011
The Transplant Fund
All money earned by JeffWerx (artwork, game and book sales,
t-shirts, etc.) goes directly to the Transplant Fund. The PayPal link
to the right will allow you to make payment for your custom artwork,
or a donation to the JeffWerx Transplant Fund.  To learn more
about this fund, continue reading below.  
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The Transplant Process
If you're unfamiliar with the transplant process, here's an explanation of what it involves:

The Work-up involves a whole lotta medical tests to gather data to determine if your body
has a good chance of surviving a transplant. This includes all kinds of things including
basic blood-typing, dental work (to be sure you don't run the risk of developing an infection
later that would compromise the transplanted organ), cardio tests,
the financial evaluation,
and other things that scan and beep and buzz and poke a person with many, many needles.

When you've jumped through the above hoops, your case is presented to a
Transplant
Review Committee
. The committee consists of relevant doctors, surgeons, financial
coordinator, social worker, and the coordinator, who will all decide if you're a good
candidate.  If they decide that your life is worth saving, you'll be approved and will officially
be
on the list!

When you're on The Waiting List, you wait. The average wait for a kidney/pancreas
transplant is a year and a half. You'll try to keep your health up as best you can while you
wait for that phone call to summon you to the hospital for the surgery. It can come at any
time and you have to be ready to go.

Post Surgery For a kidney transplant you'll spend about a week in the hospital to be sure
that your body isn't rejecting the new organ. This will be a time of lots and lots of daily
tests.  A kidney/pancreas transplant takes about three times as long to recover.  One
surgeon told me that kidneys are pretty tough, but the pancreas is sensitive and takes
longer to feel at home.  Kidneys are kind of like a sponge that filters toxins out of the blood,
but the pancreas has a lot of hormonal processes going on, plus the organ doesn't like to
be touched and gets all sensitive and secretes stuff...yuck. If all goes well, you'll be
discharged from the hospital.

If you live within easy driving distance of the hospital you'll go home, but if you live farther
away you'll be put up in a hotel to try and get back on your feet (this quickly becomes
expensive and there's no insurance to help with this) while trekking back and forth for a few
weeks of continued tests. If all goes well, you'll be able to come in less and less often for
tests.  

After the surgery you're going to need to be especially careful about who you see and
where you go because the body's immune systems are kept lowered (you'll be on these
drugs the rest of your life and they are EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE) to help prevent the body
from rejecting the new organ. Dust masks may become your newest fashion accessory.

I was on dialysis for almost exactly a year, still sitting next to Raquel every night, but hooked
up to my own machine.  The first time I received
the call I had to decline because I had a
broken foot and wouldn't be able to handle the added strain of all that extra recovery. It was
really difficult to say no to the person on the phone with me, but that's how it goes.  If you're
going to do something this big, this important, you need to do it right.  To give anything less
than your all would be disrespecting the gift that someone gave of themselves so that you
can keep on living.  When the next call came I was ready, well, as ready as one can be.  It's
always gonna be kind of a weird experience I think.

I was in surgery for about eight hours.  They declared the surgery a success, and then I
promptly quit breathing.  They snapped a few ribs but got me breathing again.  The next
several days were rough as I was dealing with a bizarre phenomena known as ICU
Dimensia.  This only happens in the Intensive Care Unit, and is the result of the stress of
being cut apart, sleep deprivation, and who knows what else.  I'd elaborate more here but it
would just give you your own nightmares...really.  I noticed right away that my hands were
numb and burning at the same time.  Eventually I found that this was from a combination of
nerve damage from being held in what's essentially a crucifixion position for eight hours,
and a side effect of one of the anti-rejection drugs.  My hands are somewhat better now,
but I can't turn a page, count change, or discern what I'm touching.  It's annoying and really
weird, but this isn't a normal side effect so most people won't have to worry about this kind
of thing.

I've recovered really well now, and am getting around with only a few little side-effects of the
transplant process.  Most importantly I'm no longer on dialysis so I'm able to be there to
help Raquel while we get her ready for her own transplant.  Also, after forty years as a
diabetic, I'm NOT diabetic anymore.  This means a lot of things, but mostly it means that my
organs won't continue degrading at the accelerated pace that the disease brings to
people.  Groovy.

Raquel is working hard to prepare for her work-up procedure so that she can get her own
kidney transplant.  There are a few speedbumps we're working through, and there are
weird little snags that just pop up as part of the "dialysis lifestyle", but she is strong and
working really hard.