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‘I Spent Two Years, Four Months and 13 Days on Dialysis, and Your Priorities Change’

Rebecca Smith

JT Thomas is a senior at the University of Missouri and is studying biology and business. We met at an event called “The Art of the Scar” that was hosted by the Missouri Kidney Program in September.

JT was diagnosed with kidney failure at the age of 20, and he spoke about how his experiences with kidney failure and his time in dialysis has changed his outlook on life.  

He is now four years post-transplant.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

JT Thomas: I'm in the hospital and, you know, I was diagnosed with kidney failure, which at just turning 20, that's not something that you even think about.

I'm worried about school, work, Friday nights, hanging out with friends, living a normal life - we throw this into the mix... it's a whole different area of focus.

So, I distinctly remember my nephrologist saying, "You're gonna need a transplant," and as soon as I heard that the strawberry smoothie that I had for lunch came back up.

And with my quick reflexes that have been honed over years of sports and athleticism, I was able to catch the smoothie. That was one of the most defining moments of my life.

From there, I was prescribed dialysis. For four hours a session - three times a week.

And initially, it was such a quick diagnosis, and they needed to get me on right away, they put a catheter in my chest with these tubes sticking out. So, whenever you put on a shirt, it always tugged a little bit and was very unsightly.

But this catheter went straight down basically into my heart, and it would get the blood and it would basically clean me out and put the blood back in. So, as my heart was pumping, this machine was working and the clean blood would go back in.

And I spent two years, four months and 13 days on dialysis while still trying to go to school, while working, while having a social life, and your priorities change.

It shifts a lot of, you know, what you grew up doing, believing and knowing that, "Hey, you can do... You're young. You're strong," but then something like this happens and you're weak, you're isolated and you're trapped, and it was hard. 

It was very very hard to go from where I was to this.

Priorities change, you know, priorities shifted from school and work to - health.

And while I was sitting in this chair, I got to see all my friends graduate, get married, get jobs.. and you've grown up with these people since kindergarten, and like, you're doing this all together. We're doing this at the.. you know, we graduated together... and that should be me.

But it wasn't. Because I was sitting in a chair. Three times a week for four hours a session. Because, you know, it sucks. 

I spent 1,464 hours on dialysis while waiting for a transplant, which equates to 61 entire days.

Now imagine what you could do with 61 days of your own time - no interruptions from anything. Could you read that book? Could you get that job? Could you spend time with your family? 

Cause that's time that I'm never gonna get back.

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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