Hope Meets Gratitude: Cheryl's and David's Journey to Kidney Transplant

Cheryl, a University Hospital kidney transplant recipient, and David at Hope, Meet Gratitude.Diagnosed with systemic lupus in 1989, Cheryl Stedman had no choice but to learn how to live with pain and discomfort associated with the chronic inflammatory disease. Those who have been diagnosed with lupus suffer from a wide range of symptoms that affect almost any part of the body. In Cheryl's case, it was her kidneys.


Every day was a constant battle, and Cheryl spent 26 years fighting off the discomfort and pain that came with her diagnosis. In February 2010, Cheryl's kidneys began to shut down and she began dialysis. Dialysis is a life-support treatment that filters harmful waste, salt and extra water to prevent build-up in the body, and is typically performed on patients who have lost 85 to 90 percent of their kidney function. In Cheryl's case, she lost 95 percent of her kidney function and was in need of a kidney transplant.


At this stage, Cheryl and her husband, David of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, began to explore the (very realistic) option of a kidney transplant. In 2012, Cheryl was denied a spot on the kidney transplant waiting list due to her weight. After her continuous struggle to lost weight, Cheryl underwent gastric sleeve surgery, an operation that makes the stomach smaller.


After months of hard work to lose the weight, Cheryl met her BMI (body mass index) goal, losing nearly 70 pounds. At that time, Cheryl was eager to get back to the UW Health transplant clinic for another consult regarding a kidney transplant.


In September 2015, Cheryl was placed on the deceased donor list. Awaiting a life-saving transplant, Cheryl was encouraged by her husband, David, to "keep her eye on the prize." David mentioned that every day was just another day closer to getting to the "prize," that being a life-saving kidney transplant.


On May 23, 2016, Cheryl had just sat down to watch the 10 o'clock news when her telephone rang. When the caller ID displayed "UW Health," Cheryl eagerly answered the phone. The phone call caused quite the scurry as Cheryl and David rushed to pack their things and get to UW Hospital. The day had finally come; David and Cheryl's lives were about to change forever as it was time for Cheryl to be given the gift of life – a new kidney.


Late that evening, Cheryl's new kidney arrived at UW Hospital and she underwent kidney transplant surgery. Waking to find David by her side, Cheryl spent about a week recovering in the hospital. David credits the Restoring Hope Transplant House in Middleton for providing comfortable and affordable housing, allowing him to be by Cheryl's side on her road to recovery.


Though Cheryl is still in the early stages of her transplant, she has already experienced improvements with the quality of her life.


Most notably, David joked, "She has to use the bathroom much more often."


Though Cheryl was lucky to receive the kidney so needed, she shared that the greatest impact since her surgery is the grief that she feels for her organ donor and their family. Full of gratitude, Cheryl wrote to her donor family and hopes that one day she will have the pleasure of meeting the family that gave her hope.


In their 31 years of marriage, Cheryl and David have remained positive through the wide range of battles they have endured. Even while Cheryl was awaiting her kidney transplant, David remained an active volunteer with both the Fort Atkinson Lions Club and UW Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD). By speaking to teen driver's education classes about registering as an organ donor, attending community events to promote the importance of organ, tissue and eye donation, and remaining an on-going Lions member, David continues to support UW Health's mission to save more lives by educating the public about the importance of registering as an organ donor and the number of lives that can be changed with organ, tissue and eye transplants.


On July 30, the UW Health Transplant program celebrated their 50th anniversary. Both Cheryl and David participated in the Hope, Meet Gratitude parade when 53 people took to the stage to share their connection to organ donation and/or transplantation. Cheryl and David energized the crowd as they introduced themselves as "Hope," as the duo still remains active volunteers for both the Lions club and UW OTD, and as "Gratitude," for the kidney transplant that Cheryl received.