Melinda, 42, a Ripley native, was diagnosed with diabetes in her early 20s and has handled all the limitations and lifestyle changes that go with the diagnosis all of her adult life, eventually suffering amputations and loss of kidney function.
"I've been told all my adult life that I'd never be able to have a child," Melinda said.
However, from the depths of more than one life-threatening crisis, the McLeroys find themselves in early 2012 counting the miracles and blessings that have come their way: parenthood and a new kidney for Melinda.
Melinda's more severe health problems began in 2007 after she suffered an infection in her left foot from an undetected splinter of glass.
"I don't have any feeling in my feet and stepped on some glass," Melinda said. "It got infected and started swelling, but we thought it was healing all right."
Then a blister appeared on the heel of the same foot and became infected as well.
"I went to the wound center for a year fighting that," she said. "They tried everything, but nothing worked."
That was when the critical decision had to be made to amputate the foot.
"After they amputated her foot the infection kept spreading, so then they had to take her leg from the knee on down," Julius said.
Melinda was receiving all of her care at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis - The Med - and was fortunate to have her mother, sister and brothers living nearby in Southaven and Olive Branch, where they had moved from Ripley.
"I ended up staying with my mother in Southaven more than three years," Melinda said. "All of my family have just been great through all of this."
Neither the amputations nor the recovery were simple or straightforward.
After the second amputation surgery Melinda remained unconscious for almost a month and was in intensive care for almost four months. She stopped breathing two times and had to be placed on a respirator each time. At one point doctors had to perform a tracheotomy to open her throat and insert a breathing tube.
Her brother, Harold Akins of Southaven, came to visit every day she was in the hospital, while her husband Julius had to commute for weekend visits and hold down his job at the Walmart Distribution Center in New Albany.
The trauma Melinda's body suffered after the surgeries caused her kidneys to shut down, and she needed dialysis three times a week, making it even more important that she stay with her mom and near the hospital.
As she began to get stronger, though, Melinda and Julius made another transformative decision. They trained at a dialysis center in Tupelo to administer the dialysis treatments at home. She was able to return home in April 2011.
"I trained for six weeks and they came to the house to set everything up - the drain, water machine, dialysis machine, a recliner," Julius said. "It takes an hour to set up, about 3 hours 45 minutes for her on the machine and about an hour to shut down and clean everything up."
They planned the dialysis treatments for the evenings when Julius didn't have to get up at 4 a.m. the next day to go to work.
"It was tough, but we did it," he said.
It was a great relief to be back together in their own home. It was a different home, however, that Melinda returned to than the one she had left. Their previous home in New Albany and all their possessions were burned in a house fire in late 2010.
"It seemed like everything bad was happening, but I just kept praying every day for a miracle," Melinda said.
Five months after she was back home, Melinda and Julius learned of a totally unexpected miracle. Melinda had missed her monthly cycle for several months, but never suspected pregnancy. Doctors had told her for years that she couldn't get pregnant.
After using five home pregnancy tests that all showed positive, Melinda's pregnancy was confirmed by her doctor.
"They'd always said it was a 1-7 percent chance that I could get pregnant on dialysis, and if I did get pregnant there was a 94 percent chance that I would have a miscarriage," Melinda said. "I was already 23 and a half weeks when I found out. They wanted me to carry him until at least 34 weeks."
Little Wesley had other ideas, however. Questions about his heart rate caused doctors to deliver him on Nov. 14, 2011, at 28 weeks, weighing 2 pounds 3 ounces and 14 inches long. He stayed in The Med for three months, then was transferred to LeBonheur where they repaired two small holes in his heart. The McLeroys brought him home weighing 7 pounds 3 ounces.
They were learning to care for a newborn, with Julius still administering Melinda's dialysis at home and also taking on a big share of baby care duties, when the early morning phone call came that there was a kidney for Melinda.
"It was 12:45 a.m. on March 29, and I almost didn't answer the phone," Melinda said. "They said we had to get (to Methodist Hospital-Memphis) within four hours for the kidney to be viable."
Not only did all go well for Melinda's surgery, but the other kidney from the same donor went to Melinda's own cousin.
"How unbelievable is that out of all the thousands of people waiting," Melinda said.
Receiving the transplant has been like being reborn, she said.
"Being on dialysis had taken over my life," Melinda said. "It was three times a week for four years, then when I found out I was pregnant it was six days a week. Now it feels like I have my life back, and if talking about this will help even one person decide to be an organ donor, I want people to know. They use every part of the body possible - bones, corneas, heart, lungs, everything.
"Besides putting it on your driver's license, you have to tell the people who will be responsible after you die so they will know what your wishes are."
APRIL IS National Donate Life Month
• Melinda Akins McLeroy Transplant Fund: A fund has been set up at Regions Bank to help the McLeroys with costs. Melinda takes 43 medications daily, and will be on anti-rejection medicines the rest of her life.
• Organ donation in Mississippi: Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency, www.msora.org; Donate Life Mississippi, www.donatelifems.org