Family, Faith, Friends, and a Generous Stranger: How Melanie Stoddard Got the “Spring” Back in Her Step

As a busy wife and mother of four, Melanie Stoddard cares for her kids and household, handles the many duties of homeschooling, sings with her church’s worship team, and practices piano and violin when she has time. Away from home, she and her family enjoy a multitude of activities, including traveling, hiking, boating, water skiing, and snow skiing. In short, they rarely sit still.

When kidney failure threatened to turn her world upside down, Melanie wasn’t having it. As any good mom would, she did everything she could to protect her family—and that meant doing everything possible to preserve her health.

Life Changes and New Concerns

After the birth of her fourth child, Melanie noticed some changes that didn’t sit well with her. She was swollen and retaining fluids and wasn’t exactly sure why.

“We were keeping an eye on it,” says Melanie. “The ER doctor thought it was just the aftereffects of pregnancy, so that’s how we treated it at first.” 

Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better. In spring 2015, over a two-month span, Melanie spent two separate weeks at the hospital and ended up gaining about ninety pounds of fluid. She went on bed rest and was reacting poorly to her medications. 

Having gone through her late teens and twenties treating lupus through diet, exercise, and healthy living, Melanie was determined to get better the best way she knew how. She went on an all-natural diet that excluded sugars and gluten, and continued to get lots of rest. It worked—to a degree.

“My body went down those ninety pounds in a month, and it got to the point where my kidney function was returning and I just went back to see the doctor yearly,” recalls Melanie. “There were three years of feeling good.” 

That changed in 2018, when she went from periods of sickness to a week in the hospital, to learning her kidneys had failed. Melanie’s doctors told her she would need dialysis.

Making the Right Choice —For Herself and Her Health

After conversations with her doctor, Melanie chose peritoneal dialysis (PD), which utilizes the body’s natural functions to help clean the blood. Melanie trained for peritoneal dialysis and, within two weeks, was able to take her machine and her therapy home.

“Personally, I do like taking control of my health, so I felt like I had that success without someone always looking over my shoulder,” says Melanie. 

PD agreed with Melanie. Doing dialysis at night meant her days were free, she had more energy and time for her kids, was able to travel, and was in charge of her therapy schedule. 

“I went to Fresenius Kidney Care in Binghamton, New York, and my nurse Melissa was excellent,” Melanie recalls. “I was so thankful to have her taking care of me and be so open and honest. If I had questions on the machine or needed supplies, she was always right there when I needed her.”

Although PD got her “ready for the next step,” as months and years ticked by Melanie recalls feeling sluggish. She required longer PD treatments to achieve desired results, and was getting rashes on her arms and legs from phosphorus toxins that were not getting fully cleaned from her body.

It was time for another change, and another choice.

Right by Her Side

With support from her family, friends, and church, Melanie began seeking a kidney transplant. She says she and her husband “put their complete faith in God,” and her friends “stood behind her with the faith that she’d be fully healed.”

Melanie shares that her husband—she calls him her “rock”—has been a constant source of support. No matter what she needed (help with the kids, grocery store runs, meal preparation, foot massages), he was always there. 

“They were fighting right alongside me,” she says.

Although she was presented the option of getting a deceased donor kidney, Melanie decided to wait. She says it was hard to say no, but several friends and family members were being tested as possible matches, and her hope was for a living donor

When her close friend Kristen learned she wasn’t a match, she pursued other opportunities on Melanie’s behalf. “She just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” says Melanie, with a laugh. 

Kristen kept asking questions and discovered “paired exchange,” a program that allows donors who don’t match with a friend or family member to “swap” places with another donor/recipient pair. Two recipients get transplanted simultaneously, receiving their new kidneys from each other’s intended donor.

“The transplant coordinator connected with Kristen and turns out there was a guy who was a match for me, and Kristen was a match for the guy’s friend,” recalls Melanie with excitement. “We all happened to be in our thirties. It just seemed perfect in my mind.”

It was decided. Two donors would give their kidneys. Two recipients would get the organs they desperately needed. Melanie was there in December of 2019, when Kristen donated her kidney, and Kristen was there to support Melanie when she received her new kidney on February 5, 2020.

“It worked out wonderfully in the end, since I could be there for her, and vice versa,” says Melanie.

More than a year later, Melanie is feeling great—and grateful. 

 “I’m enjoying getting back to all the things I used to do. I can work out, run, and have more flexible time with kids and family. I’ve got that spring in my step again.” 

For more information on paired exchange programs, visit https://unos.org/transplant/kidney-paired-donation/. To learn more about Donate Life America and National Donate Life Month, visit https://www.donatelife.net/ndlm/.

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