Wendy Rodgers, 39
Hometown: Torrance, California
Medical Challenge: Lupus
I was in my midtwentiesand newly married with a young daughter when I started waking up feeling stiff and achy. I’d recently moved from Houston to Los Angeles, so I thought I just needed to adjust to a new climate. But when I couldn’t even lift my head off the pillow, I stopped blaming the weather.
A doctor I consulted tested me for lupus, an auto-immune disease that attacks the kidneys and central nervous system. I tested positive and, six months later, in August 2000, found myself in the hospital with kidney failure. My brain stem was inflamed, and I couldn’t walk. I also developed a potentially fatal blood disorder and later on acquired MRSA, the scary antibiotic--resistant strain of staph. All in all, I spent six months in the hospital that year, much of it on and off life support.
When I was released, I had the puffy moon face of a Cabbage Patch Kid and no hair. I had to give up my teaching career in favor of my new full-time job: trying to stay alive while waiting and hoping for a kidney transplant. Every day I had a plasma transfusion and took 24 different medications; three times a week I underwent dialysis. In the meantime, my marriage broke up, and my mother had to move in with me for four years to help me raise my daughter.
After nine years on a transplant waiting list, I had the operation in 2009. The doctors made me get up and walk the very next day. The pain was excruciating, but I kept walking—first up and down the hospital halls, then on a treadmill at home, then around my apartment complex. Four months after the transplant, I was strong enough to complete the three-mile Walk for Lupus in Los Angeles.
Then I began walking with my 75-year-old aunt. She was finishing chemother-apy for lymphoma and had decided to walk the L.A. Marathon. I thought, If she can do it, I can do it. So I trained four days a week to walk the 26.2-mile course. I turned crossing the finish line into a personal goal, to express my gratitude for the transplant and to honor friends with lupus who weren’t strong enough to walk.
The day of the marathon, it was pouring, but the streets were filled with people cheering us on. With each step I took, I thought, This is what life is: a marathon. Sometimes you can walk faster, sometimes you can run, sometimes you have to slow down, sometimes you’re in a lot of pain, sometimes you want to quit.
I didn’t quit.
When I approached the finish line after five hours and 15 minutes, my aunt—who had stayed by my side the entire time—said, “It’s time for you to walk through on your own.” After I crossed the line, a woman I didn’t know came over and said, “Congratulations! You just finished the L.A. Marathon.” We clasped hands, and I said, “You know, 11 years ago I almost died.” It was an unbelievable moment.
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