Forgive Alexis Poythress for being late with her mother’s 50th birthday present.
Life-changing medical tests can take a little longer than expected.
The belated gift was worth the wait for Regina Poythress as her daughter was deemed a perfect match for a kidney transplant that would end an arduous journey of more than seven years on daily nine-hour dialysis.
Regina is the mother of Hawks player Alex Poythress, whose twin sister Alexis donated a kidney in February in a surgery that changed the course of several lives in the family.
“It had been going on so long,” Alexis said during a recent family visit to Atlanta to see her brother, a trip that would have been difficult just a month ago. “My mom managed her dialysis and kidney failure pretty well but it was going on almost eight years. I told co-workers previously that I always felt I was a match. … I just thought it had gone on too long.”
The journey began in February of 2012. Regina felt something was not right. She itched. Her ankles were swollen. She had no appetite, even for her favorite foods. Her three children knew something was wrong when she couldn’t make it to watch one of their basketball games.
She saw her doctor on a Thursday and expected test results the following day. There was a brief sense of relief as Friday progressed. However, a call on her drive from Nashville to Clarksville, Tenn. home from work was not good. Regina needed to pull over to gather herself. She was in complete kidney failure. She saw a specialist on Saturday and had surgery to remove both organs following the weekend. Just days had passed and she was on an operating table.
The cause of the failure was uncontrolled high blood pressure. It’s a condition Regina laments to this day on how something so simple could lead to such an urgent situation. The kidney specialist explained the stages of failure, 1 through 5. Regina was past stage 5.
“It was something simple that if I had just known,” Regina said. “I thought it was me being a single mother, working with kids, a hectic life.”
Alex and Alexis were in high school and Alyssa was in middle school. There was brief thought that one of the children could donate a kidney then. However, there were some circumstances that would prevent such a grand gesture at the time and Regina was hesitant to put her children through such an ordeal.
For the first two months, Regina had hemodialysis, where she went to a hospital three days a week for four hours at a time for the treatment. She changed to peritoneal dialysis, which allowed for the treatment to be done with a machine at home. The process took nine hours each day hooked to the machine with bags of medicine that weighed up to 45 pounds.
As life went on, Alex and Alexis left for college. Much of the responsibility to help Regina at home fell to Alyssa and her parents, Betty and James Odom, to get her to doctor appointments and other errands. Regina marvels at the help she received and the sacrifices made by others.
“For me, it was hard to watch because I saw her more when she was sick, very tired and weak,” said Alyssa, now a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State majoring in nutrition who would like to eventually focus on renal care. “There were times I had to cancel plans and make my life revolve around her and focus on her. It was challenging at first. But she’s my mom and I knew she didn’t deserve to get sick. She is such a good person. It was never a burden to me.”
Life went on. Regina was able to work from home several days a week. Travel was an issue, lugging a machine and heavy bags of medicine. Daily life had to be planned around a nine-hour hookup to that life-saving machine.
There were a couple of close transplant opportunities, including one with Regina’s twin brother, but they never worked out. There was some discouragement with having to move down the transplant list at times. The estimated wait for a transplant had dragged on well beyond the 3 to 5 year estimate.
Finally, Alexis had enough. Without telling anyone, she went to the hospital at Vanderbilt University and had tests to see if she was a match to donate a kidney to her mother. Word came that she would be a good candidate. When the news came, Alexis was visiting her mother. She stepped outside to take the call, something Regina found odd. She returned with camera in hand to film the pronouncement.
“When she told me I had mixed emotions,” Regina said. “I was happy, ecstatic, surprised but then a little hesitant. It was my daughter and, of course, I didn’t want her to go through any pain.”
Alexis admits the announcement didn’t go quite as planned due to her mother’s hesitation. Who can blame a mother?
More tests were needed. When they came back, it was deemed the Alexis was an excellent match. This was really going to happen.
The surgery was done on Feb. 5 at Vanderbilt. Alex was able to make the trip from Atlanta following a game the previous night. Regina’s parents made it just in time to see her wheeled off to the operating room.
“For my sister to do that, it means the world to my family,” Alex said. “It shows how much love we have for each other.”
The surgery was an immediate success. The kidney functioned immediately with excellent results.
“Alexis has been a blessing,” Regina said. “What a beautiful gift. I don’t think too many children can say they gave their mother life. It was a selfless act from her and a beautiful testimony for me. I’m so thankful to her.”
Both Regina and Alexis are recovering well. The family made a recent trip to Atlanta to visit Alex, who needs some assistance of his own after suffering an ankle injury that has him in a walking boot and on crutches. The 25-year-old Alexis said the surgery was easier than an ACL reconstruction and a Cesarean section she had for the birth of her daughter.
Alexis says she is proud of herself and proud of her mother for staying so motivated following surgery.
Life has changed for the Poythress family in ways no one could have imagined.
“My quality of life is so different now,” Regina said. “My kidney diagnosis has been quite a journey with ups and downs. I celebrate all of my journeys in my life, whether they are good or bad. It’s just one step of the journey of my life. I’ve never tried to complain. God’s grace has carried me through all of this.”
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