***My sister wrote a mini-bio about me for a college class. It sums up 20 years of my life in a sweet little nutshell…that made me cry when I first read it…and still does every time! Although sometimes I swear it feels like I’m reading about someone else’s life…but nope, it’s me.***
Shannon’s story is a courageous one; she fought to live, love and have children even if that meant risking her own life.
When Shannon graduated from high school; like most young people, she was unsure of her future. After spending a short time in college and needing some direction in her life; she made a decision that would forever change the rest of it—she joined the Navy. However, not far into her naval career, she collapsed. With her blood pressure spiking they admitted her into a civilian hospital and told her that she could have Hepatitis, Lupus, or AIDS. Shannon was far from home for the first time ever…all on her own, scared, and really sick.
Many tests later, she was transferred to the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD where she was diagnosed with a rare and incurable kidney disease called Immunoglobulin A Nephropathy (IgAN ). IgA is an antibody that protects the body against upper respiratory problems, but for people with IgAN, the antibody builds up inside the kidneys and prevents them from properly cleansing the blood of toxins. Upon her diagnosis, Shannon was given an honorable medical discharge from the Navy and was sent to stay in a medical holding facility for several months with other military members awaiting the same fate.
Shannon was checked into the holding facility by a Naval Petty Officer named Jeff.
He had the kindest eyes she had ever seen and after processing her paper work they became instant friends, practically inseparable. They spent day in and day out talking with each other, deep into the night. Her dorm room wasn’t quite what she had expected; 4 walls and a line of bunk beds housing 8 to 10 other girls; all of them sharing a single bathroom. Shannon’s job at Med Hold was to stand watch, she checked ID’s and watched the hall. She also got to call Reveille in the morning—which basically consisted of banging on everyone’s door calling “reveille” to wake them up. Shannon, who was well liked for her sense of humor, walked down the halls yelling “ravioli!” Shannon kept hearing from mutual friends that “Jeff liked her more than a friend” but she didn’t want to believe it—she didn’t want to ruin the perfect friendship they had created.
Then she got transferred to Naval District Washington. She began working at the Naval Museum handling naval artifacts and assisting the curator . She was placed in a dorm room with a single roommate, and even though she had a fun job, a much nicer room, and a roommate that she got along with, she was miserable.
She spent all her free time sitting at the payphone in her dorm talking to Jeff. She missed him terribly. One day as she was riding the shuttle to work, a song came on the radio. The words seemed to be speaking directly to her, “Something’s telling me it might be you, all of my life.” At that moment she realized that her friendship with Jeff was so much more—she was absolutely head over heels in love with him. A whirlwind weekend followed this revelation, the perfect “first date” that ended with Jeff asking Shannon to marry him. She whole heartedly accepted his proposal.
To Have Children
Shannon and Jeff knew immediately they wanted children—as many as possible. But also knew it would be difficult with Shannon’s health problems. After many months of trying, they were blessed with a pregnancy, but ended up losing it due to a blighted ovum; the baby had failed to fully develop inside the gestational sac. They were devastated, but didn’t lose hope that they could indeed have a child.
Shortly thereafter, Shannon became pregnant again but developed pre-eclampsia at 23 weeks. The doctors told her that if she did not deliver the baby, they both would die. Shannon delivered Holden Alexander 17 weeks early. He didn’t survive. They were heartbroken.
After the loss of her son, Shannon was told by her obstetricians and nephrologists not to get pregnant again since it was too dangerous. They told her to wait until she got a kidney transplant before she should even consider it.
Shannon and Jeff had no idea how long it would be until she would be able to have a transplant and couldn’t imagine not ever having children in their home, so they began looking into adoption. While telling one nephrologist of their plans to begin the adoption process, he sat her down and told her that her transplant could be twenty years or more down the line, if she wanted to get pregnant, it was best to do it now while she was young. Going against the advice of about ten other doctors, he encouraged them to try again while she was young enough to handle it. Even though there were great risks to her health, she took his advice and they began trying again, one last time.
Early November of 1995 they found out she was pregnant. This time around she was considered a high risk pregnancy and was monitored very closely by a different team of doctors than with her previous pregnancy. Shannon was put on bed rest restricting her to only necessary activities. Her due date was July 4th—Independence Day. Even though she followed her doctor’s instructions and stayed on a strict bed rest schedule, she still ended up in the hospital 3 months too soon.
“Oh God, it’s happening again!”
Shannon was admitted to the hospital for decreasing kidney function and increasing blood pressure. For four days she and her doctors worked to keep her pregnancy stable, but on the fourth day her doctors made a decision—she had to deliver or her kidneys would fail.
Their decision was quick; Shannon had very little time to prepare herself or her husband Jeff who was over 45 minutes away at work. She called Jeff to tell him she was about to deliver their son as she laid on the gurney, being wheeled to the operating room to prepare for an emergency cesarean section
Shannon delivered Jack Harrison 11 weeks early; he survived.
When Shannon woke from the general anesthesia, Jeff was sitting next to her holding a Polaroid snapshot of their baby boy, born at 2 lbs 4 oz. Shannon wept at the sight. Despite all the wires and tubes attached to his small fragile body, he was beautiful.
For the second time in her life—she was in love.
Jack spent 2 months in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit before going home at 4 lbs.
During such a joyous time, it was hard to think about anything else other than the miracle child who beat the odds and came home healthy. However, the stress that the pregnancy and delivery put on her kidneys could not be ignored.
Although her doctors tried everything to keep her kidneys working; by the time Jack was 3—her kidneys had failed. She was immediately put on peritoneal dialysis. Luckily she was able to do this type of dialysis at home. With peritoneal dialysis, a permanent tube is placed in the abdomen and a dialysis machine pumps fluid in and out throughout the day to clean toxins and excess fluid from the body. This was hard on Shannon, it was tough chasing around a 3 year old boy hooked up to the dialysis machine; but she was happy and felt incredibly blessed to have this healthy and energetic miracle named Jack.
When Jack entered into the first grade; a classmate’s mother suggested to Shannon that she enroll Jack into a gymnastics class at the local high school. Shannon thought it was an excellent idea and took him in to get enrolled. In his gymnastics class he met a little boy named Elias, they became fast friends.
Since the boys spent so much time together, Shannon began talking to Elias’ mother, Robin and they too became friends. When Jeff got a job at NASA, they had to relocate over 3 hours away, however their friendship stayed strong with frequent visits on weekends.
Over the next few years Shannon’s health began to decline. She was in and out of hospitals; severely weakening, having blood transfusions and vomiting daily. Her doctors called Shannon’s state of health a “train wreck”. In October of 2005, Shannon once again headed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with pericarditis caused by a previous doctor’s dialysis mistake. A second opinion by a new doctor saved her life by catching this mistake and diagnosing the pericarditis. Shannon will be forever grateful to Dr. Agraharkar! Pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium—the thin lining surrounding the heart. Shannon’s doctor kept her on dialysis around the clock, trying to avoid surgery. It didn’t work and Shannon was wheeled into the operating room for heart surgery. The doctors cut a permanent opening in her heart allowing the fluid to drain. She spent the next week in the Intensive Care Unit, her entire stay lasting over a month. Then once again she headed home to her family.
While Shannon was in the hospital, her friend Robin was making a decision that would forever change both of their lives. Robin told Shannon that she was getting tested; she wanted to donate a kidney to her. Shannon was grateful, but didn’t want to get her hopes up…she didn’t think there was any chance that Robin would end up being a match, but so sweet of her to try. When the phone rang a week later, she was unprepared for the news she was about to receive.
“I’m a match” were the only words Robin said. In shock, Shannon sat speechless not believing what she had heard. From that point on, Robin underwent a battery of tests, some of them very painful, but she passed them all with flying colors.
On May 7th 2006, a very frail Shannon was wheeled to the operating room one last time, but this time she was wheeled alongside a dear friend. Shannon and Robin had always shared a close bond as friends, but now they were linked forever as sisters—‘Kid’ Sisters, as they call themselves.
—written by Jessica Tucci, 2010