A Donor. A Gift. A Life.

I was 28 years old, and the company that I was working for had a blood drive. I went to donate blood and got a note back that said, ‘Something’s wrong, please don’t give blood again.’”

Joanne Dabit-Shadeh, who manages UK HealthCare’s Transplant Clinic’s front desk, greets Teresa.
Teresa bonded with Joanne Dabit-Shadeh, who manages UK HealthCare’s Transplant Clinic’s front desk.

That was the beginning of what would be a lifelong condition for Teresa Schladt. After that initial, mysterious blood test, it took seven years to diagnose Teresa with a genetic disease called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency—an inherited condition that can result in serious lung or liver disease. Ten years later, at the age of 45, Teresa’s doctors told her that her liver was in failure.

Teresa and her husband enjoy time together in their living room.
Teresa’s husband Tom retired early so they could spend more time together.

“My doctor immediately referred me to the UK transplant team. I came down here, and I almost immediately got on the transplant list, because my liver was in bad shape. By February or March [of 2007], I was on the list, and I received a liver from a donor named Derek Rash in June.” 

The road after Teresa’s transplant was less than easy. She was diagnosed with liver cancer just 10 days after the transplant, dealt with two rejections, and did it all while balancing her recovery and treatment with Type 2 diabetes. 

Teresa and Jennifer Watkins, her transplant coordinator, walk down a hall and talk.
Jennifer Watkins, Teresa’s transplant coordinator, “always listened to me. That gives you the confidence to speak up.”

“Diabetes is one of the biggest obstacles that I face. It is a constant battle, an everyday battle. Sometimes it’s not easy, but try to enjoy every day that you have, because it’s definitely been a gift.”

For Teresa, there’s been no bigger gift than the one made possible by her donor and his family. She was even able to meet her donor’s mother and thank her in person. “She wrote me a letter and she told me about her son, and then we met her. I was so grateful to her, because she was brave enoughon the worst, deepest, darkest hour of her lifeto go ahead and donate his organs. To be able to think of someone else during that hour is amazing.”

Teresa hugs Jennifer Watkins, her transplant coordinator.
“I knew it was a partnership, not just them telling me what to do.”

Despite the complex, ongoing nature of her condition, Teresa’s expansive support network has helped her stay strong through the toughest parts of her treatment. From family members to physicians to front desk greeters, she credits them with helping her through everything from her transplant to managing her diabetes to her recent diagnosis with lymphoma. 

Dr. Kristen Stakelin talks to Teresa in an examination room.
Dr. Kristen Stakelin helps Teresa manage her diabetes and balance it with her ongoing care.

“You know, it’s all good. I’m the luckiest person walking around here. I received a liver. I’ve been fairly healthy ever since. But yes, I laugh sometimes and tell people that I have visited just about every specialty in the whole hospital.”

Teresa and her husband walk their two dogs outside.
“I surrounded myself with my support system. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t had these people in my life.”

Thanks to her care team, Teresa is managing her conditions and loving the life made possible by her donor and his family. Her advice for anyone facing a similarly complex diagnosis is simple:

“First, advocate for yourself. Second, it’s patience, time, perseverance, because there’s roadblocks that you will hit, but just keep going. Be very vigilant about your medicines, because that’s what’s going to keep you alive. And then go out and live your life. Don’t let it stop you.”

Teresa plays guitar in her living room.
“Go out and live your life. Don’t let it stop you. You’ve got to just keep going.”

See how we care for patients like Teresa at UK HealthCare.

Sarah clasps her hands under her chin and smiles at the Expressions of Courage event.Josh roars for a photo in his UK Football gear.