Retired teacher not stopping after double transplant
Shalonda Todd was diagnosed with scleroderma in 2005. The disease had attacked her internal organs and lung functions.
This story, by Doris Maricle, appeared originally in the "American Press."
OAKDALE -- It has been three years since Shalonda Yvette Todd underwent a double-lung and single kidney transplant after being diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic, systemic autoimmune disease.
But the 44-year-old retired special-education teacher and grandmother of two is not slowing down. She has found a new life with the new organs after the triple transplant.
She recently participated in the softball throw during the Transplant Games of America, an Olympics-like event held in June in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"The experience itself was awesome," Todd said. "To know that someone like me, who has been brought through so much hardship, can persevere."
Todd was diagnosed with scleroderma in 2005. The disease had attacked her internal organs and lung functions.Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a chronic connective tissue disease generally classified as one of the autoimmune rheumatic diseases.
"I had never really been sick at that point, other than a basic cold," she said. "My local doctor kept telling me I had bronchitis. I finally said no and went to a specialist."
By 2007, Todd was on oxygen 24/7 and doing breathing exercises three times a week at a Houston rehab where she had relocated to be closer to family while awaiting the transplants.
"I knew my breathing had gotten worse, and I was having to turn the oxygen up," she said. "I couldn't go places by myself. I needed people to take me places, and I was in and out of the hospital. I couldn't walk or do much without having shortness of breath."
Chemotherapy and medicines did little to slow the disease down, she said.
By 2009, Todd's condition had worsened. She was going through 15-22 oxygen tanks a month.
"My lungs were like those of a 40-year-old smoker, and I had never smoked," she said. "I was going downhill. My doctor told me I was not getting any better. I was beating down death's door."
Doctors were concerned about Todd's weight and put her on a feeding tube to help her lose the weight she needed to reduce the stress on her body before the transplant.
"That was the beginning of an uphill battle," she said. "I was mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted. At that point I was telling God, I was ready if he was ready for me."
Todd received the call that changed her life on Sept. 21, 2009, after being on the transplant waiting list for less than six weeks.
"I feel fortunate," she said. "There are people who have been on the waiting list for four years and haven't gotten a match. God blessed me and that was awesome."
Doctors at the Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center in Houston had found a match for both her lungs and a kidney from the same donor -- a man in his late 20s who died in a car accident.
She underwent a 15-hour surgery the next day and remained in an induced coma in ICU for a week.
Todd knows very little about her donor, but is grateful for the gift of life. "I write his family every year around the anniversary," she said. She hopes to meet them one day.
"I want to tell them that their family member is living through me and I am going to take care of these organs to the best of my ability," she said.
"I don't need the oxygen anymore. I can breath good on my own, and I can walk where I want without getting short of breath."
Todd was in the hospital for four weeks and in a rehab center for two more weeks. It took her two years to completely recover.
"It was a rough road after that because sometimes I'd get a high, high fever," she said.
Infections kept her in and out of the hospital the first year after the transplant, but through it all she remained optimistic.
"My mood was I was going to beat this and I was not giving up, I had too much to live for and if God brought me through the surgery, he had a purpose for my life," she said.
She takes more than two dozen medicines a day and still has frequent doctor visits, but she hasn't been in the hospital for over a year and is trying to move on with her life.
"It changed my life because I had to give up my teaching career for a while, but now I am back seeking employment," she said.
She has been tutoring in her home for the last two years and recently received a master's degree in counseling.
She got involved in the Transplant Games by joining the Team Texas track and field squad.
"I didn't win a gold medal, but I placed within the Top 10," she said. "Some people took the competition serious. Some, like me, just went to have a good time and to show people that we are not giving up on our lives."
Competing in the games is evidence that transplant patients can go on to live normal lives, Dr. A. Osama Gaber, director of the Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center, said in a news release.
"To see how sick many of these patients are before transplant and how they are now healthy enough to physically compete is a triumph for these amazing people," Gaber said.
Todd said she made a lot of friends during the weeklong event, and she is looking forward to returning to the next games in 2014.
"I was able to go through the transplants and still participate in sports events," she said. "Some people, once they are sick, don't want to chance hurting themselves or getting anything out of place. I'm still young and I am willing. There's nothing that I can't do."
Todd, who said she has always been religious, said the near-death experience has made her faith much stronger.
"He has now proved himself to me, and my relationship is now closer with God," she said. "I have every reason to praise him."