Natchez woman receives gift of life for holiday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Lorene Thomas just had the best Christmas she has had in years. She did not receive a new car or a new house but a new kidney and a new liver &045; essentially, a new life.

Thomas received a kidney and liver transplant a week before Thanksgiving and returned home the week before Christmas. But now, after living 14 years in pain before the transplant, she said she feels &uot;great.&uot;

&uot;It makes you want to jump up and shout,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;You couldn’t give me a better Thanksgiving and Christmas gift. This Christmas I will remember the rest of my life.&uot;

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After being on the donor list for just 24 hours, she received the call from the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans and headed south as quickly as her daughter, Lawanda Toles, could drive her.

Having expected to be on the donor list for five years, Thomas did not have time to do much but pick up and drive.

&uot;They said it was the fastest turnaround they’ve had,&uot; Toles said.

They only were pulled over once, in St. Francisville, La. Lawanda said the police officer asked her if she had a good excuse for driving more than 70 mph in a 45 mph zone, with her flashers on.

&uot;Yeah,&uot; she told him, &uot;a pretty good one.&uot;

Thomas said she lived with constant pain for 14 years, beginning in 1989.

In 1993, she learned she had Hepatitis C.

Thomas said she did not know where she got the virus, but she had worked in a hospital before. Her doctor said she could have pricked her finger on an infected needle. By 1994, the doctor

told her she had psoriasis.

Because of the pain, &uot;I couldn’t really do anything,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;In order to function, I had to have pain pills.&uot;

With pills dictating her life, Thomas was mostly sedated and cannot remember many things about past years because of it.

Thomas was not being treated for her illnesses but just for the pain,

regularly visiting the pain clinic at University Hospital in Jackson.

&uot;You can look at my arms and see I’m a pincushion,&uot; Thomas said, from all of the needles.

At first, it was just the liver she would need transplanted but this past summer, she found out she only had 10 per cent kidney function.

Thomas said her 82-year-old mother Vinnie Doss and her daughter, Lawanda, had to take care of her before the transplant.

&uot;I couldn’t work. I had no kind of income. It took me five years to get

disability,&uot; Thomas said.

Lawanda is a registered nurse and took a family medical leave of absence from her job to take care of her mother during the transplant.

She was in New Orleans with her mother from the surgery to her release. Lawanda now dresses the incision twice a day. It’s a good thing Lawanda is around because Medicaid can only send someone out once a week.

Thomas said she does not remember much but does remember looking down and seeing the 89 staples in her stomach.

&uot;I could look down and see them … but it didn’t hurt,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;This is the first time in 14 years I’ve been pain free.&uot;

Lawanda said there was only one setback so far

&045; when Thomas entered a low-grade coma, probably from the anti-rejection medicine that can cause neurological problems in some people. She could not eat or talk for almost 24 hours.

All of a sudden, one of the nurses spoke to her and she answered back in the middle of the night. As the next day progressed, she came out.

&uot;I could hear them talking but I couldn’t say anything,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;I dreamed a lot of stuff. I can’t distinguish between dreaming and reality,&uot; from her time in the coma, she said.

But now she is home and pain free for Christmas, a stark contrast to last

Year’s Christmas she does not remember much about.

Thomas said she told her cousin, &uot;If I don’t live but one month, that is one month pain free. That beats the heck out of 14 years.&uot;

Her granddaughter Kira said she prayed for her Nini and told her, &uot;you’re going to be well for Christmas.&uot;

Thomas said Kira told her that Jesus told her so.

Now, Thomas cannot wait to do the things she could not do before, especially play with Kira.

&uot;Now we’re going to have a good time together,&uot; Thomas said, ready to go to the park and plant flowers and just be able to walk around.

Before, just getting out of the house was a feat. Lately, she has been riding around town with Lawanda.

&uot;She’s seeing stuff in Natchez that is old to me,&uot; Lawanda said.

Thomas said she is ready to go around and see the town and walk around the mall; things she has not really done in 14 years.