In My Own Shoes: Full lives, made possible by donors

In My Own Shoes: Full lives, made possible by donors

The Westerly Sun

The year was 2009, and Janie Carlisle was returning to Connecticut following an uplifting few days spent attending the Rotary International Convention in Birmingham, England.

But something was wrong. She didn’t feel well. At first she attributed it to travel, but once home, she felt worse. After several doctor visits and a battery of tests, Janie received the news that she had kidney disease — her kidneys were barely functioning. She would have to go on dialysis immediately, and her only chance of survival would be a transplant. Getting on the national transplant list is easy; getting to the top of that list and actually finding a donor who’s a perfect match is much more difficult, since at any one time more than 120,000 names are on the list with more than 3,000 more being added each month. Janie was only 48 years old.

As the years slipped by with little encouragement, Janie’s condition worsened until she needed dialysis nine hours a day, every day. Only a miracle could save her. And then, one did.

Janie’s sister, who lived in Atlanta, happened to attend a fundraiser and started talking to the woman standing next to her. Somehow the subject of Janie’s plight came up, and this total stranger said, “I’ll give her a kidney.” Well, it sounded a bit preposterous — this total stranger offering one of her organs. But Debbie Williams was serious. Still, she had to be tested to make sure she was the right blood type, and then there would be a battery of subsequent tests. The initial blood test performed in Atlanta showed she had the same blood type as Janie, so next Williams flew to Yale’s New Haven Transplant Center for a complete workup. There she proved to be a perfect match.

The successful transplant took place on May 15, 2012, a day both women still celebrate and commemorate. Although Janie will take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life, she now has a rest of her life. She’s earned a master’s degree, works in management for a major Connecticut corporation, and gets to play with the grandchildren she feared she might never see grow up. Together the women have established a national grass-roots organization, the Carlisle-Williams Foundation, which provides support bags at no charge to end-stage renal patients (all over the United States) who are undergoing dialysis. The foundation also provides hope and encouragement by trying to work with patients individually to create meaning in their lives. They even find employers who will allow them to work part time or in a virtual capacity. You can find out more information about this uplifting and worthy foundation by visiting: or calling 860-204-0712. Happy ending, yes?

The rest of this column is not so happy. Susan Douglas-Koons was a registered nurse who was born in Westerly and lived in Richmond with a husband and son she loved unconditionally. When she was just a teenager, Susan was the recipient of a kidney donation. Like Janie, she went on to live a full life. That transplant was the inspiration for her becoming a registered nurse. She worked at the dialysis center in Warwick for 25 years as a dialysis charge nurse, supporting and helping patients to cope with their disease and finding a sense of peace.

Several weeks ago, after 35 years of allowing Susan a full life so she could do the same for others, that kidney began to fail. A local donor immediately came forward, and they were a perfect match; but sadly Susan died before the transplant could take place.

If she could write this last paragraph, Susan might ask YOU to contemplate becoming an organ donor, not just at the time of your death, but as a living kidney donor. For more information, contact Rhode Island Hospital’s Transplant Center at 401-444-8562, or Yale New Haven Hospital Center for Living Organ Donors at 866-925-3897. Please consider this, and pass this message on to others. Susan lived a wonderful, full life and gave so much to so many others in the process because of the kidney she received.

Your heart is also an organ, but it’s a muscle as well, and muscles can stretch. Sometimes you just have to stretch out of your comfort zone to accomplish something good.

Perhaps this is one of those times?

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 16 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at or 401-539-7762.


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