Megan Sharpe and her three kidneys rose early on a recent day in Omaha.
The 34-year-old took the first 12 of the 24 pills she needed for the day, then hit the treadmill before working 14 hours at two jobs.
On the same day in Topeka, Kan., Kim Mittermeier and her single kidney got up at the usual time, 5:30 a.m.
The 52-year-old packed lunches, got breakfast on, saw kids off to school and herself to work teaching sixth-grade math.
It was a typical day for two women whose connection goes beyond family ties: One of Megan's three kidneys used to belong to her Aunt Kim.
Now Megan is seizing a second chance at a healthy life. This involves getting in shape. And taking heavy doses of a medication that suppresses her immune system, to keep her body from rejecting Aunt Kim's kidney. Megan will need to do this for the rest of her life.
Kim is proud of her niece and glad for her role.
When I asked how, as a mother of three, she could take the risk of giving away a kidney, Kim had a ready reply: How could she not?
“I never thought twice,” she said. “If it was one of my kids ... It's what you need to do.”
Megan has dealt with juvenile diabetes most of her life. Until 2010 it was more hassle than health concern. All the checking and rechecking of her blood sugar. The insulin shots.
It didn't keep her from missing much during her years at Gross High and Northwest Missouri State.
But three years ago, that changed. She was in pain, she was retaining fluid, and her kidneys were shutting down. She had been on dialysis, first at a clinic and then at home. At bedtime she would hook up to a machine that would do what her kidneys could not: Clean her blood.
Megan needed a new kidney, and her options were running out. Her three siblings wanted to donate but could not. Her mother was 67, and Megan didn't want to put her through the rigors. Her father was dead. There are not enough kidneys nationally to go around.
At age 32, Megan Sharpe was planning her funeral.
Enter Uncle Jeff. He was the youngest Mittermeier to grow up in a big, loving South Omaha family. He had idolized big sister Lolly's Air Force husband, Ray Sharpe, and followed Uncle Ray into the service.
When Jeff was stationed in Kansas, he met a young, pretty teacher named Kim. They got married in 1982, with little Megan serving as flower girl.
Jeff and Kim settled in Topeka, but they stayed close to Jeff's clan in Omaha. When Uncle Jeff found out about Megan's need, he quietly decided to see whether he would be a match. Aunt Kim went through the testing rigors with her husband out of solidarity.
They were amazed to find out that each was a match for Megan.
Kim told her husband she'd do it. She was in better physical shape. She had the summer free to do all the testing and blood work in Omaha. She had saved up sick leave from her teaching job.
One night in July 2010, Jeff and Kim and their kids joined Jeff's family in Omaha for supper. As usual, there were multiple generations at the table.
Outgoing, bubbly Megan was tired, a constant condition at that point. She was depressed. She was living with a time bomb.
That night over sushi, a cousin handed her a card. Inside were two pictures of Megan and Kim from the 1982 wedding.
One showed Kim the bride soothing a sad Megan the flower girl after someone else had caught the bouquet.
Kim and Jeff have a photo just like it framed in their living room, and it caught Kim's eye when UNMC called her in Topeka about being a kidney match for Megan.
Kim found a similar photo and put that, along with two matchbook matches — get it? — in a congratulations card that said simply, “To Megan, with love.”
A euphoric Megan blasted the news on Facebook and on her blog.
“They are giving me something that not many people can say, another chance!!!” Megan wrote. “I love everything about the last 24 hours!!”
The journey from that night to Oct. 26, 2010, when the transplant took place, was not easy. Megan got sicker and weaker. She had to scale back and then leave her two jobs, at Goodwill Industries and Blue Sushi Sake Grill in the Old Market.
She could no longer afford to live on her own. Her health insurance premium was $600 a month. Fundraisers helped defray the costs.
The kidney transplant was a success. But Megan wasn't done.
Doctors said her new kidney would have to work three times as hard. Megan would need a new pancreas.
Megan would have to wait. But not for long.
The call came in February 2011.
Exactly two years ago today, Megan Sharpe got a new pancreas.
She views her transplants as a second chance at life.
“And when you get it,” Megan said, “you don't stop living it.”
|FROM THE NOTEBOOK|
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha in their new blog, From the Notebook.|
She has lost weight. She has pledged not only to get in shape but also to compete in triathlons.
She aims to be nicer. To give people second chances.
She worries less. No more medical alert bracelet. No more what-if bag, with orange juice.
And she's back at work.
By day, she's a business outreach specialist for Goodwill. By night, she's a server at the downtown Blue Sushi Sake Grill.
As for Kim, life has returned to normal. She says she doesn't feel any differently. The tattoo, she jokes, almost hurt more.
After the transplant, Kim had a green ribbon tattooed on the left side of her back.
“To Megan,” it says. “With love.”
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