By Curt Yeomans
Morrow resident, Leona Coleman, noticed the first signs of trouble during a trip to her home town of Lake Charles, La., in early 2008.
She had a hard time mounting enough energy to do much of anything. "I started feeling a little, what you call it, weak," said Coleman, 59, in a laid-back Cajun drawl. "It's like when you want to go out and do something, but your body just won't let you."
The symptoms continued when she came back to Georgia. She went to a doctor, and he diagnosed her as having lupus on her kidneys. "Then, it was one pill after another," she said. "Then, they started saying I needed to go on dialysis, and I said 'Dialysis?' ... I didn't believe it, I told the doctors 'My kidney can't be that bad.'"
But, on dialysis she went, three days a week, and now, she is waiting to see if one of her two sisters, or a son, are a match for a kidney transplant, to keep her alive.
Doctors at Emory Healthcare are evaluating her and a her relatives to see if there is a possibility of a kidney match. "If we are compatible, that's what I don't know yet," she said.
At the same time, Leona and her husband, Kelvin Coleman, are facing mounting medical bills, with an uncertain financial situation. Kelvin, who married Leona nearly 15 years ago, said he had to give up his job as a maintenance supervisor for a company that makes shipping palettes, because of diabetes-related complications.
Meanwhile, Leona, who has seven children from a pervious marriage, is taking care of two sons, who have been diagnosed with physical and mental illnesses, as well as two of her grandchildren, according to her husband.
There is a Dacula-based non-profit organization called Lendego, which is trying to help the Colemans pay for part of Leona's medical expenses. The organization assists people in need by matching them up with people who want to provide assistance, said Michelle Serra, a spokesperson for the organization, in a press release.
The organization has set a goal of raising $11,000 in donations by late April of next year, to help Leona pay the first six months of her post-kidney-transplant-surgery medication, according to Serra. She added that people can donate money through the organization's web site, www.lendego.com.
In a written statement, Lendego Founder Dennis Hodges said the story of Leona Coleman's life "epitomizes Lendego's mission statement. "Leona has spent her entire life working to help improve the lives of those around her," Hodges said. "Now, life has handed her a set of circumstances that she cannot handle alone. That's where we step in."
Leona's fight to survive her struggling kidneys, which she said are losing the ability to function, is not her first bout with medical issues. In 1988, she underwent a hysterectomy. Since moving to Morrow in 1992, her health has become an issue more than once. She said that in 1998, her doctor noticed that her hip bones were deteriorating, but could offer no explanation for why that was happening.
"My doctor showed me where my bones were deteriorating, and the left was worse than the right, so it was replaced first [in 1998]," she said. "Then, in about 2000, the other one was replaced."
Last year, she also started having unexplained pains in her sides, which doctors diagnosed as blood clots, she said. But, she added, the doctors could not offer explanations for why she might be having blood clots.
Many of the things she used to be able to do, and enjoy doing, are impossible tasks these days, because of the toll her weakened kidneys have taken on her body, she said. "There's just so much that I can't do anymore. I love to bake, and I can't do that anymore. I used to work in a daycare center. I love working with children, but I couldn't do that anymore. I don't have the energy to keep up with them. I love to sing, but it would just [she sighs] ... I don't know ... it just takes away my energy ...
"I've heard about people who've had kidney transplants, and after the transplant, they have all of this energy -- they can do stuff, like run, again," she added. "Oh God, that's what I want to do."
Leona Coleman said she has only begun to feel more energetic over the last three weeks, as her doctors wean her off of dialysis, in preparation for a possible kidney transplant.
There are two things in her life that keep her going, she said -- her husband, and her faith in God.
Kelvin Coleman said he talks to his wife all the time in an effort to keep her spirits up. "He has helped me from falling into myself," Leona said.
Kelvin said he was with her when her doctors diagnosed the lupus. The couple will celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary on Jan. 15, he said. "She likes to travel, so when we get a little money, I want to take her out of town somewhere," Kelvin said. "Sometimes, she'll get depressed, and I try to lift her spirits. She means a lot to me, that's my heart right there."
Leona Coleman said that while she wants the possible kidney transplant to be successful, she understands there is only so much the doctors can do for her. "I've got to keep my faith in God," she said. "These doctors are only capable of doing so much for me. After that, it's in God's hands."