The Kidney with a Heart of Gold - Joanne Graybill

Joanne GraybillSome of us find angels in the strangest places, for Joanne Graybill, her angel happened to be her ex son-in-law and father to one of her granddaughters.

Joanne works as an Executive Secretary for the Center Manager and Medical Director of the University of Utah Health Care Westridge Health Center.  She has worked at the University of Utah for 10 years, with a total of 42 years in the health care profession.  Joanne is also a donor, to the University through Payroll Deduction to the University of Utah Kidney Transplant and Patient Support program.

Joanne was born and raised in Iowa and has worked in the medical field there and in Nebraska and Utah.  She knew she wanted to be in the medical profession since she started high school.  Joanne began her medical career in her junior year in high school working as the receptionist in a doctor’s office.

Joanne, who had no family history of kidney disease,  was diagnosed with deteriorating kidney disease approximately 8 years ago.  Graybill’s kidneys were damaged as a result of her high blood pressure medication that she had taken years ago.  

Mrs. Graybill valiantly fought the kidney disease for as long as she could but unfortunately she began to get weaker, food tasted like metal, she had no energy and her skin began to have a tinge of yellow and gray.  She was placed on the kidney transplant list and remained there for a year and a half as her kidneys steadily got worse.  Joanne had been offered 2 cadaver kidneys but they both had fallen through at the last minute.  She was now facing the dreadful procedure of dialysis.

Joanne’s ex son-in-law, Kevin Blow, whom she considers a son, had offered to be tested to see if he was a match several times, but she had always turned him down.  Kevin, who considered Joanne to be a second mother, would not take no for an answer.   After hearing that the second cadaver kidney fell through, he called the University of Utah Hospital  Transplant Department  and asked how he could be tested to see if he was a match. The first step was rigorous testing to ensure a match.  Blow works as a Public Safety Dispatcher at Dugway Proving  Ground and drove into Salt Lake to get his testing done a couple of times a week.  Unbeknownst to Joanne, Kevin had already started to make some changes in his life six months prior to being eligible to donate his kidney to his “mom”.  He also began to pick up extra hours at work to save time off for the surgery. 

Kevin was Joanne’s miracle; the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Joanne and Kevin found out they were a match within two weeks.  Joanne was approximately two weeks away from requiring  dialysis so the University Hospital staff did everything they could to schedule the surgery as quickly as possible.  Nine days later, November 19, 2010, they were scheduled for surgery.

Joanne recalls, with tears in her eyes, her  final thought as she was wheeled down to the surgical unit, “I know it is going to work, I know I have a second chance with my grandchildren”.

The surgery was a success!  Kevin was back to work after 6 weeks recuperation time.  He worked hard the weeks following surgery to get back into shape.  However, Joanne’s recovery was a lot tougher.  She was subject to weekly blood tests and follow up appointments in the transplant clinic to ensure the new kidney was functioning. Also, following surgery there is an adjustment time that a transplant patient goes through to decide the correct dosage of several medications.   Joanne unfortunately was admitted back in the hospital after two weeks of being home with dehydration and a serious infection.

One year later Joanne and Kevin passed their one year appointments with flying colors.  Joanne is now down to bi-monthly blood draws and looks great and feels full of life.  She credits the wonderful staff at the University Hospital and Clinics for her successful recovery.  Joanne loves the staff at the Transplant Center and recalls that they seem to know all their patients by name and they are quick to go above and beyond. Graybill exclaims “The staff is very genuine.  They treat everyone that comes in to the center the same, it is like they are vested in you and become a part of you”.

Joanne would like to first thank her family for their support .  Special “thanks” goes to Brett Holman who is her transplant coordinator.  His calls, visits to the hospital room and his willingness to answer questions like “am I supposed to feel this way, or is this normal?”  Also Susan Pettit, social worker at the University Hospital, who was especially wonderful  to  Joanne when she was re-admitted to the hospital unexpectedly, and without preparation.  Pettit checked on her daily and was a huge comfort to her daughters who were very upset and worried. Susan visited with them,  answered their questions and told them how to care for their mom when she got home.  She also would like to recognize Dr. Gregory Martin, who has been her wonderful physician for the past 5 years, and Drs. Shihbab and Raphael for performing the surgery, following her in the hospital and now see her for her post-transplant visits.  Finally Joanne’s co-workers who tenderly donated hours of their own vacation time so she could receive a paycheck during her 3 months of recovery.

Kevin would like to thank his mother who traveled from Vermont to Utah to be here when Kevin got out of the hospital.  Also “thanks” to his co-workers at Dugway Proving Ground who covered and/or worked short staffed while Kevin was recuperating.

Joanne and Kevin remain close and have loved each other like mother and son even after the divorce from her daughter.  However, she still has a hard time dealing with the reality that he would unselfishly give her one of his kidneys.   

Joanne and Kevin now are advocates for the Live Donor Transplant Program.   Joanne and Kevin have volunteered to speak in seminars for the Kidney Foundation.  Joanne lovingly reminisces at one of the questions she was asked by a patient at a seminar.  One patient asked what if Kevin’s last kidney failed and he needed a transplant.   Joanne said “he can have it back!” But she knew that Kevin’s answer would be “No, Mom it is yours now!”  Kevin has always and continues to say “It is no big deal, I love my mom and I have no regrets.  Besides you could be killed by a bus or your life may end suddenly and if I would have lost this chance to do something for someone I love I would have regretted it”.

Joanne, who is also an advocate for yearly physical exams including blood work, has a renewed passion for the organ donation program.  There isn’t a day goes by that she doesn’t think about it and what it has done for her. Joanne donates to the U because she wants to give back.  She has always been a donor through payroll deduction before her transplant as she felt it was her obligation, but now feels that it is a privilege to help other people going through the same thing. 

For more information on the University of Utah Health Sciences Payroll Deduction Program please contact the University Hospital Foundation or if you would like to make a donation to the University Organ Donation Transplant Program click here.

Written by: Tawnja S. Carballo
University of Utah Health Sciences Development

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