In honor of National Donate Life Month, Kaiser Permanente member and employee Audrey Cook shares her story of receiving a life-saving transplant. Pictured, Audrey Cook with her grandson Felix.
It’s been 23 years since Audrey Cook received the simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant that saved her life, but she tells the story as if it were yesterday. Maybe that’s because Cook, 63, is so mindful and grateful of the gift she was given.
“Had I not had the transplant, I don’t think I would’ve seen my son graduate from high school,” Cook said. “He was 16 then. Now he’s the dad of a 6-year-old boy, and I’m looking forward to the day when my grandson graduates.”
After recovering from her transplant, Cook shut down her small business to pursue work at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland. She went on to become a financial analyst for The Permanente Medical Group in Roseville.
“I wanted to give back to the company that helped save my life and be a part of an organization that does so much good for so many people,” she explained.
When Cook recently recounted her transplant story to Look insideKP NCAL, she described her life now as “very full and very blessed.”
Why did you need a transplant?
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 11. I had what’s called brittle diabetes, which is hard to control, and by the time I was 38 my kidneys had failed. My physician, Mubashar Rana, MD, at Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek, referred me to UCSF to be evaluated for the kidney transplant list, and a few years later I received that middle-of-the-night phone call letting me know they might have a match for me.
I did peritoneal dialysis at home for a year prior to my transplant, but I was getting weaker and I wasn’t doing well. If it wasn’t for that transplant, I don’t think I’d be alive.
How did the transplant surgery go?
I spent more than 15 hours in surgery, and it was successful! When I awoke, they told me I not only received a kidney, which would eliminate the need for dialysis, but also a pancreas that would produce insulin, so I no longer needed the insulin injections that I had been giving myself since childhood.
For months after my transplant, I would go to the refrigerator to get my insulin, and then I would remember and start giggling. I was giddy with happiness and life.
What do you know about your donor?
Her name was Betsy, and she was a registered nurse who worked with transplant patients. I met her mother and her sister, and they told me she had been a championship swimmer.
I was 39 when I got her kidney and her pancreas, and she was only 34 when she died of a brain aneurism. To this day, I can’t swim without feeling like I’m doing it for her. Sometimes I say, ‘This one’s for you Betsy, let’s take a lap.’ I will always be extremely grateful to her.
How are you doing now?
My eyes were damaged by the diabetes, but my vision hasn’t kept me from living a normal life. I’m a very active person, and I exercise 5 to 7 days a week. I hike, I travel, I zipline, I love ocean kayaking, and I garden a lot.
People ask me why I smile all the time, and I tell them that going through what I have taught me not to sweat the small stuff. I deeply appreciate all the gifts and blessings that I have.