Cheryl Stagg – From Diabetes to Dialysis to a Donated Kidney

*As seen in Grassroots News April 9, 2013 edition*

Glenda Peebles (l) and sister Cheryl Stagg (r)

Cheryl Stagg might be down, but you can’t count her out. The 52-year-old is quick to tell stories and jokes as she rests in a Winnipeg hospital bed receiving one of three weekly dialysis treatments.

Originally from Fairford, Staggg married and settled down in Dauphin River until flooding hit the community in 2011. Stagg and her family had to move to Winnipeg and that’s when Stagg noticed something was wrong.

“I noticed my body was changing,” she recalls. “My ankles were swelling, my face was puffy.” Stagg wound up in the emergency room and found out her kidneys were failing. She was devastated.

Despite having been diabetic her whole adult life, Stagg didn’t know she faced the threat of kidney disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease in Manitoba. In hindsight, Stagg says she would have tried harder to control her diabetes if she knew it could have prevented dialysis.

“It’s so important to know if you are at risk of kidney disease and to get your kidneys checked,” explains Dr. Mauro Verrelli, Medical Director of Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Manitoba Renal Program. “Often people don’t know they have kidney disease until it’s too late.”

Stagg delayed dialysis, but her kidneys were so sick she needed hemodialysis right away. Hemodialysis uses a machine to draw blood from the body, cleans out toxins and waste normally filtered by kidneys, and puts it back into the body.

It’s been six months since Stagg started dialysis and she’s feeling better. “It’s up and down,” she says. “I’m learning a lot about my body.” She says dialysis often wears her out and she faces restrictions.

“You have to watch how much you drink and what you eat,” she explains. She also feels a loss of independence. During dialysis she needs help from nurses. At home she can’t do as much as she wants, like babysitting her six grandkids or being too tired to cook meals after dialysis. She also says not everyone in the family understands the physical challenge she faces.

Stagg credits her faith for helping her through the illness. Shortly after she had gotten sick, she was had low energy and trouble breathing. She went to a Lake St Martin church service in Winnipeg. “The power of God fell on me,” she says. “After that service I actually ran. I know for a fact he healed me.”

Along with keeping faith, Stagg is making other efforts to improve her health like controlling her blood sugar to reduce complications. “I’ve seen too many people lose their limbs.”

She’s also hoping to receive a kidney transplant. Not everyone on dialysis is able to get a transplant but Stagg’s stable health status makes her eligible. Two of her sisters were tested to find out if they were a match.

“For me it was never a choice. It’s something I knew I had to do,” says Stagg’s sister Glenda Peebles. Peebles says it took about six weeks and two pages worth of appointments to find out if she was a match.

“Being a donor is more of a commitment than just saying I’ll give you a kidney.” Peebles says many people offered a kidney to her sister, but doesn’t think they know how much of a commitment it is. For Peebles it’s arranging work around testing appointments, taking time off for surgery and even losing some weight to be a healthier donor. She encourages people offering up a kidney to understand the statement they are making. “If you are not totally committed, you are giving false hope.”

The sisters were not a match but that hasn’t stopped them. Peebles and Stagg are now in the database for the Living Donor Paired Exchange (LDPE) Registry.

“The LDPE Registry allows for kidney transplant opportunities for individuals with a willing but incompatible donor,” explains Dr. David Rush, Medical Director of Transplant Manitoba Adult Kidney Program. “Our pair can be matched with another pair anywhere in the country that is in the same situation”.

This means Peebles may travel to wherever their paired recipient is to donate her kidney to a stranger, while a stranger may travel to Winnipeg to donate his or her kidney to Stagg.

In the meantime Stagg takes things one day at a time. With more flooding on the way and her health situation, Stagg is unlikely to return to Dauphin River anytime soon. Her words of advice are for people to take care of themselves, particularly if they are diabetic.

“The vision is that when you are diabetic the end result is death. It doesn’t have to be that way. Follow the rules. Take better care of yourself. If you eat properly and exercise it can take you a long way.”

Written by Amie Lesyk

For more information on transplant and organ donation, visit www.transplantmanitoba.ca.