CCU staffer celebrates special anniversary
June 17 is a special day for Chris Donevant-Haines. It is a day she considers her "second birthday." This year, she celebrates the 10th anniversary of her double organ transplant from a donor she never knew.
Donevant-Haines, who has worked at Coastal Carolina University since 2005 and is a counselor in Counseling Services, received a new kidney and pancreas at the Medical University of South Carolina in 2002. She had been on dialysis for three and a half years.
"I am a very fortunate individual, even though I will always operate as a diabetic," says Donevant-Haines. "I just traded my needles in for 28 pills a day to keep the organs from being rejected by my body." She will have to take pills for rest of her life.
Due to privacy laws, she was not permitted to know the name of her donor, and the only thing she could learn was that the age of the donor was 19, so she refers to her lifesaver as simply "19." She wrote a heartfelt letter to his or her family after the surgery, but the letter was never answered.
"Most people have the misconception that transplant means 'cure,' but that is not the case," says Donevant-Haines. "I owe every day of my life to 19 and will be forever grateful to his or her family for this gift of life. I would encourage others to consider becoming organ and tissue donors."
On her 10th anniversary, she posted her annual tribute to 19 on Facebook and reflected on life then and now. "For sure, I grieved, I gave thanks and expressed hope for 10 more healthy years."
It has been a long, painful journey to this peaceful and healthy time in her life. Donevant-Haines was diagnosed with Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes at age 4. An only child, she was living with her family in Logan, W. Va., a coal mining town; she spent 12 days in the hospital getting regulated following her diagnosis. She couldn't eat sugar any more and had to take regular insulin shots, which back then were given with very large needles.
When she was in college, she got her first glucometer to test her blood sugar level, which was a big advancement for diabetes patients. She earned a two-year degree from Marshall University and began working as a legal assistant with plans to attend law school. She earned a bachelor's degree in social science with a minor in psychology from Bluefield State College.
In 1994 she had her first major diabetes-related surgery when her retina detached from her pupil. The retina was re-attached, and three laser surgeries on her eye followed the same year. She also had additional laser treatments to her "good" eye over the next eight years, as well as removal of cataracts on both eyes. Later, the retina from the "good" eye detached as well and had to be re-attached, again through laser surgery.
Meanwhile, in 1995, Donevant-Haines and her husband, Steve, had moved to Myrtle Beach where her great-grandparents had owned a beach home on Oak Street since 1947 (before it was even paved). She worked for Citizens Against Spouse Abuse (CASA) and the Waccamaw Center for Mental Health. She interned for six months in the admissions department at Horry-Georgetown Technical College while working on her master's degree at Webster University and found she loved being around and working with students.
In March 1999 it was determined that Donevant-Haines needed to begin dialysis. After many unsuccessful attempts to create a port in her arms, a catheter was required for the procedure. A second catheter placement made her upper left arm swell up to double its size, creating additional medical issues that had to be addressed. She jokingly called it her "Popeye arm" because of the big bulge at the top. No one really knew what caused the swelling, and it took awhile for it to come down, despite repeated ice packings.
Dialysis, the clinical purification of blood as a substitute for the normal function of the kidney, was grueling. She had to have the procedure three times a week for four and a half hours a day.
"There were 12 or 14 chairs in a circle in the room, and I was the youngest," she said. "I would come in, all perky, with my Hello Kitty lunchbox and my earphones." Since the machine beeped constantly, there was no possibility of relaxation.
"You had to be healthy enough to go through the transplant surgery, so whenever I wasn't recovering from a surgery, I would hop on my recumbent bike and ride 10 miles a day," says Donevant-Haines. She credits the exercise with making her healthy enough to withstand the difficult surgery and subsequent recovery.
In September 1999, Chris was in Grand Strand Regional Hospital for another surgery when the hospital was closed by a governor-ordered evacuation for Hurricane Floyd. She was 89 pounds then, in the recovery area with a new catheter inserted. She went home to a West Virginia hospital.
"It was very difficult," says Donevant Haines, who is by nature an upbeat person. "Every surgery was a failure. I knew this could be the rest of my life."
Donevant-Haines went back on the transplant list in March 2002, and three months later, on June 17, she got the 5 a.m. call from MUSC that her new organs were ready and waiting.
She said goodbye to her beloved cat Jade and her house, thinking it might be the last time she saw them, and drove herself and Steve to MUSC. She was wearing her favorite Doc Martens but was ready for a long day – which was good because it was a long day of waiting while more vital organs were transplanted: hearts and lungs.
"I kept wondering how long my new organs were going to last," says Chris. "I was at peace with the possibility I might not make it."
She did, however, make it, and the rest is history, says Donevant-Haines, who went through a total of around 50 surgeries and medical procedures between February 1995 and June 2002. She has written a book about her life "so far," and hopes to get it published one day. It is called "Kidney Pie: Tales of a Defiant Diabetic."
She does not take her current good health for granted. In addition to her job in Counseling Services, which she loves, she volunteers for S.C. Donate Life. She urges everyone to consider becoming organ and tissue donors, which can be done as easily as going to Facebook's new Timeline Health button and registering, or going to the Department of Motor Vehicles website or in person.
Donevant-Haines also volunteers at the Grand Strand Humane Society, where she helps out with adoption events and other needs. She is devoted to Lola and Coco, her two rescue schnauzers that she admits to dressing in funny outfits. And she loves spending time with Steve, who works at Corsair Comics in Myrtle Beach and at the annual science fiction convention X Con World, which he co-founded.
I try to live my life joyfully," says Donevant-Haines, who loves bright colors and cozy surroundings. "It has been a tough journey, and I know it's not over. I don't want people to be sorry for me, but I do want people to be amazed. I do not take my life for granted. It has been a great life, and Coastal has been a great fit for me."
She has previously worked as assistant director and director of Student Activities and Leadership.
"I am a very fortunate individual and want others at CCU to know that no matter how hard the road ahead may seem, you should never give up."