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A family affair

A speedy kidney match gives a mom the chance to enjoy life's milestones.

Gail Farmer swung into action after being diagnosed with a rare disease in 1990, ditching her smoking habit and dropping 120 pounds to reach her goal weight of 140. The lifestyle change helped Farmer, 47, curb the effects of sarcoidosis, which attacks the lungs and then moves from organ to organ.

But in 2007, the disease had taken its toll on her kidneys, dropping their functionality to 15 percent. Farmer began dialysis in October 2007 and was placed on the VCU Medical Center's transplant list that December.

The expected wait?

Three to eight years, doctors told her.


In the meantime, Farmer quit her job as a top-performing account executive at Misys Healthcare Systems in part so she could perform peritoneal dialysis every two hours. This form of dialysis, which can be done at home, uses a catheter and a solution to cleanse waste and fluids in the body.

The process ate up many of Farmer’s waking hours, but allowed her to continue basic activities such as attending church and putting her daughter on the school bus.

“It was difficult because you had to stop what you were doing every day and sit down and do your treatment,” Farmer said. “It was crazy, but it was teamwork — my family knew how to do it and would help.”

The process included checking her weight and temperature daily and selecting the correct solution based on how her body was doing each day and heating it to an exact temperature.

In April 2008, Farmer finally received clearance for a dialysis machine she could use for one eight-hour session as she slept.

The convenience lasted about a month before she got the call from the VCU Medical Center, as she was putting her then 10-year-old daughter, Kasi, on the bus. A kidney transplant had been canceled, leaving a healthy kidney from a 21-year-old deceased donor available. Farmer was a perfect match.

A ‘second birthday’

She received the kidney just six months after being placed on the transplant waiting list.

“They basically put an IV in me; it was like ‘boom, bang’ and eight hours later I had the transplant done,” Farmer said. “It was May 15, 2008. I consider that my second birthday.”

She returns to the VCU Medical Center on that date each year to deliver doughnuts and balloons to the staff, who she said were attentive, thoughtful and caring. Farmer returned home from the hospital just a few days before her son, Devon, graduated from Manchester High School.

Watching him cross the stage allayed what had been her biggest fear — not making it to that milestone in his life.

“I prayed every day that I would survive this disease,” she said. “I had so many things I wanted to do.”