By ELLEN CIURCZAK/Hattiesburg American
HATTIESBURG – Twenty-six-year-old Megan Lanham Bradshaw and her 19-year-old cousin Elizabeth Lanham share a special bond.
They’ve always been close, but six weeks ago Elizabeth donated a kidney to Megan.
“God gave (me) two kidneys for a reason,” said Elizabeth. “If you can live a totally normal life with one, why not give one to save someone else’s?”
Megan, who lives in Hattiesburg, and Elizabeth, who lives in Sumrall, had their surgery at the Ochsner Multi-Organ Transplant Institute in New Orleans on March 12.
“I was diagnosed with lupus when I was 15,” said Megan. “It was under control for most of my life, and then, when I was 24, it went crazy on me and attacked the kidney.”
According to the Lupus Foundation of America Inc., lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the kidneys, skin, joints and blood.
Megan was in such poor health that her Hattiesburg doctor, John Thornton, recommended she get on the transplant list.
“By the time I got the surgery, both of my kidneys only had 12 percent function,” she said. “At 10 percent you have to go on dialysis, and Dr. Thornton decided I was too young to do that.”
Megan says she wasn’t actually in danger of dying, but her quality of life was very poor.
“I had to get blood transfusions one to two times a month,” she said. “My diet was very limited.
“I was getting sick all the time. I went through chemo and I was in and out of the hospital constantly.”
Megan said she wasn’t allowed to eat any food that contained potassium.
“That cut out a ton of food,” she said. “I had to watch my sodium very closely. I couldn’t eat a lot of phosphorus.”
Megan said she stopped eating peanut butter, cereal, citrus fruit and melon – all her favorite foods.
“You name it. I missed it,” she said.
But worse than that, she just never felt good.
“Not at all,” Megan said.
Once Megan was on the transplant list, doctors began testing members of her family to see if anyone was a match.
The first person they tested was her mother. She was a match, but got sick and couldn’t be a donor.
Then they tested Megan’s older cousin. She could not be a donor because of health reasons.
The third person doctors tested was Elizabeth.
“She was healthy as a horse,” said Megan.
“I can’t explain the feeling,” said Elizabeth, when she found out that she could be the donor.
“There was never a moment of wanting to back out. I never hesitated.”
Elizabeth was unusually young to be a donor, and that concerned Megan.
“I just kept thinking – she’s only 18,” she said. “I don’t know if she’s ready for this. I thought, shouldn’t I be doing this. I’m the older one. I was just amazed at how mature she was.”
Megan said, despite her concern, she was also happy.
“It was amazing,” she said. “There are people who stay on the list for years. I didn’t wait hardly any time.”
Megan said it only took 5 1/2 months from the time the transplant process started until her surgery.
On the day of the operation the two cousins were focused on each other.
“I felt nervous for Megan,” said Elizabeth. “I was worried about (the transplant) not working. There’s always that thought in the back of your head.”
Megan also had the fear that something might go wrong.
“Here she is giving up a kidney, and I don’t want it to be for nothing,” she said.
Needless to say, the surgery was successful. Both girls were in the hospital for less than a week.
Megan had to stay in New Orleans for two additional weeks to see the doctor and get blood work done.
Both still go to New Orleans for check-ups occasionally.
Both Megan and Elizabeth managed to stay in school during the surgery.
Megan is pursuing her master’s degree in school counseling at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Elizabeth is a student at Jones County Junior College and is thinking about a career in elementary education.
Megan says she now feels “amazing.”
“I had forgotten what it is like to wake up in the morning and have energy and be able to eat anything I want.
“I’m a totally different person.”
Elizabeth feels the same.
“It’s crazy that you lose an organ like that and really feel no change at all.”
Megan and Elizabeth’s relatives say their story has brought joy to the family.
“I’m overwhelmed. I cry all the time,” said Connie Brumfield, Megan’s mother.
Brumfield said, like Megan, she was initially concerned for Elizabeth, because of her age.
“There are not many 18-year-olds who are mature enough to donate an organ,” she said. “I wanted to make sure she realized what she was doing.
“She said, ‘I want my cousin to have a full life.’ Megan will forever be in her debt.”
Megan and Elizabeth’s aunt, Melinda Lanham, said Elizabeth was determined to help her cousin.
“Elizabeth is very mature,” she said. “She had her head set on doing this and it couldn’t go wrong with somebody having that attitude.”
Lanham is now happy the two girls are healthy and doing well.
“I can’t even begin to describe the feeling when they called to say they were both doing great and the kidney was working out.”
Megan says she and Elizabeth now feel closer than ever.
“Now we have a bond that can never be taken away and that we don’t share with anyone else,” she said.
And Elizabeth said it feels wonderful to be an organ donor.
“There’s no words,” she said. “It’s awesome.”