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CCU Atheneum: 17-year-old Jannicka Martinsen and Chris Mee before their transplant surgeries
17-year-old Jannicka Martinsen and Chris Mee before their transplant surgeries

The Gift of Life for a Granddaughter

by Mona Prufer
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For Christmas, Chris Mee usually gives her eight grandchildren (ages 9 to 20) something they have asked for or something she knows they’ll love - a Coastal sweatshirt, an electric blanket, an addition to one of their sports or animal collections.

But this year, she’s giving one of her granddaughters something she hasn’t asked for, but something she needs desperately: a new kidney.

Seventeen-year-old Jannicka Martinsen, who lives with her mom and brother in Ann Arbor, Mich., was in the end stage of renal disease.

But on Nov. 4, Chris and Jannicka both emerged from successful transplant surgery and continue to recover.

“It’s something we’ve known since she was three, that she would need a new kidney,” says Mee, a 20-year CCU staffer who is director of Institutional Research and Assessment & Analysis. Mee has watched her granddaughter (really a step-granddaughter, but Chris doesn’t make the distinction) decline in recent years, having to give up the extracurricular high school activities she loves - cheerleading, soccer, the 4-H Club, hanging out with friends, making the college rounds - as her energy levels drop. “She’s been a real trooper,” says Mee.

Testing for a donor kidney began in 2006. When family members went through initial tests, Chris and a son were determined to be the best matches. Chris then went through a battery of rigorous testing at the University of Michigan Hospital, which she passed with flying colors. The testing process assessed psychological and financial factors as well as physical considerations “When my daughter called to tell me I was the best match, there was no pressure,” says Chris, “I don’t have any fear. Well, we all have some fear, it’s normal, but the end result makes it so worthwhile.”

Jannicka’s mother, Kathy Mee, is a librarian. Her husband, Jarle Martinsen, lives in Geneva, Switzerland, where he works for the United Nations. He flies home to Michigan regularly and was there for the early November transplant surgery. They also have a son, Tor, who is 15.

“My biggest concern was for the people in the waiting room the day of our surgery,” says Mee. Family members arrived around 5:30 a.m. the day of the transplant, and both Chris and Jannicka were in the operating room or in recovery until about 5:30 p.m. “It was a scary day for Jim (Chris’ husband, who is director of Postal Services on campus), with a wife and granddaughter on the operating tables at the same time.”

Following the surgery, Chris was up and walking in 12 hours, and stayed in the hospital for about four days, followed by additional recovery time at her daughter’s house. Recovery for a donor is usually more painful and prolonged than for the recipient. The donor’s body must adjust to losing an organ, while a recipient is accepting a more healthy, better functioning organ than she had.

Jannicka spent a little more time in the hospital as she was monitored closely to make sure her body accepts the new organ, then home for additional recuperation. She’ll be homeschooled until January, when she plans to return to school and start preparing for college (she was just accepted at Eastern Michigan University). Her career goal is to help disabled children by the use of animal therapy, Chris says.

Mee plans to fly home to Myrtle Beach this week on Nov. 17, but in the meantime, send e-mails to her at christin@coastal.edu and cards to her daughter’s address at: Chris Mee, c/o Kathy Mee, 1780 Hack Road, Milan, MI 48160-9401.

Chris Mee, who celebrates her birthday on Dec. 25, can’t think of a better birthday present than a healthy granddaughter.

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