a mountain of her own to climb
For Shelli Nelson, admiring the beauty and grandeur of a majestic mountain range is one of life’s most delightful pleasures. But since she was 10, Shelli has had her own mountain to climb – learning to live with diabetes. By the time she was 24, the disease had left her blind and had destroyed both of her kidneys. Thanks to her only sibling, Scott, she received a new kidney. But after 21 years of wear and tear, she was in need of a second transplant.
In the summer of 2007, the medical transplant team at the University of Minnesota encouraged her to find a living kidney donor. Her husband’s coworker, Jason, answered the call. Shelli also needed to find a pancreas donor. Without a new pancreas, her new kidney would become corroded by excessive sugar in her bloodstream. Jason and Shelli agreed to wait for Shelli to become an active member on the pancreas waiting list, allowing Jason, a goalie for a city hockey team, to finish his season before going through with the transplant.
finding organ transplant support and strength
Being blind, Shelli knew she would need the support of others outside of her husband and parents during her health journey. She'd heard about CaringBridge through a friend who used the website to provide updates on the leukemia recovery her daughter, Abby, was enduring.
“I read Abby’s journal updates and felt so involved and gratified with each entry,” Shelli says. “I loved the ability to send messages to them without having to bother them with more e-mails and phone calls.”
About one month before Shelli became an active member on the pancreas waiting list, she created her own CaringBridge website.
“I have an extensive network of friends and loved ones. There was no way possible I could keep in touch with everyone [without CaringBridge],” Shelli says. “I was glad there was a place where I could post my needs for all to see. They could choose to be available but would not feel any pressure or guilt if they couldn’t help.”
comfort when she needed it most
On June 20, 2008 Shelli received the call she had been anxiously awaiting: a pancreas was available and she could now have her double organ transplant. Thanks to Jason and a 17-year-old donor, Shelli was able to receive her new kidney and pancreas the following day. During the surgery, her husband used CaringBridge to post hourly updates on her progress.
After surgery, Shelli was comforted by the supportive, encouraging words that so many caring individuals expressed in her guestbook.
“CaringBridge and the guestbook entries were even more valuable to me as a person who’s blind,” Shelli says. “I didn’t need to wait for a family member or friend to show up to read me cards or notes. I could just open up CaringBridge and my computer speech software read me the entries aloud – I loved it.”
on her way
Shelli's road to recovery was difficult. After eighteen months, she began to experience signs of possible rejection of her new pancreas. Through a variety of tests and treatments, doctors found a mass on her native kidney that turned out to be a rare form of renal cell cancer that is considered cured once the affected kidney is removed. After undergoing extensive surgery , she began treatment to reverse the mild pancreas rejection she had experienced.
Shelli celebrated the three year anniversary of her double transplant on June 21, 2011. Both organs are functioning well. “The change in my life is simply not describable.”