'Second chance' for recipient of transplant

August 04, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

Despite a monthlong stay in a Baltimore hospital, railroad-track incisions across her abdomen and various surgery-related illnesses, Darlene Ellen Jones relaxed in a rocker in her Union Bridge home and faced recovery from her recent pancreas transplant with humor and grace.

"I told my family I have the kidney of a 63-year-old and the pancreas of a 56-year-old, all in the body of a 39-year-old. They have to give it some time to adjust," said Mrs. Jones, shaking her head.

"My body doesn't know what age it wants to follow."

Mrs. Jones' body may be confused after the June 19 operation, but when she returned home July 21, she was not. She was ready to experience the rest of her life fully, an opportunity not afforded to her as an insulin-dependent diabetic.

"I plan on going back to school and getting back to work. God has helped me through this," said Mrs. Jones. "And just having another chance at life is remarkable."

"I think she has done a wonderful job. I don't think I could be this strong and independent under the circumstances," said her sister Irene Braxton. "We are so proud of her."

To Mrs. Jones, her enthusiasm and positive outlook are simply an extension of her ability to have faith and endure. The pancreas surgery is the second transplant Mrs. Jones has undergone in nine months.

Mrs. Jones discovered she was diabetic while attending Towson's Barbizon Modeling School in 1974. She had graduated from Westminster High School in 1973 unaware of her illness.

Then, four years ago, she was told her kidneys were failing.

In April 1993, Mrs. Jones' family gathered to discuss possible kidney donors.

Mrs. Jones' mother, Irene Brown, 63, of Westminster; and her siblings, Mrs. Braxton, 42, of Reisterstown; Charlotte Brown, 43, of Westminster; and Marvin Collins, 45, of Baltimore, were tested, but only Mrs. Braxton and Mrs. Brown matched Mrs. Jones.

Mrs. Braxton decided not to donate the organ, so Mrs. Brown stepped in.

"I wanted to be tested in the first place, as soon as they said she needed a kidney, but they were worried about my age," said Mrs. Brown. "It must have been intuition or something. Something just clicked. I knew I would do it. I wanted to do it."

Last October, Mrs. Brown donated a kidney to her daughter at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

The medical center had a perfect matching pancreas for Mrs. Jones shortly before Christmas, but her kidney incision was still open and the doctors did not want to do the surgery, she said.

Mrs. Jones was at the South Carroll High graduation in mid-June when the medical center called to say there was a pancreas for her. Clinic officials called Mrs. Brown when they could not reach her daughter.

"I knew where she would be after the graduation, so I called over there and told her to get down there [to the hospital]," Mrs. Brown said.

"I cried the whole time after I got the call," Mrs. Jones said. Mrs. Jones stayed in the hospital for a month after her operation because she developed a urinary tract infection, low platelets and a viral infection common after a transplant.

She beat the illnesses and came home July 21, eager to get started on the "second chance" she said God gave her.

"I want to [go back to work at a bank], but it won't be any time soon," Mrs. Jones said resignedly.

But determined to see the bright side of things, she added, "Now that I have the pancreas, I am not taking the insulin any more."

After the kidney operation, Mrs. Jones' husband, Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones, their son, Perry III, 13, other family members, neighbors and friends cared for her. The Joneses have since separated, but community and family support have continued.

But Mrs. Jones heaped much of her praise on Perry III, who stayed close to his mother as she rocked in her chair -- when he wasn't cleaning up the kitchen.

"He does laundry, he cooks, he runs errands," Mrs. Jones said, the quiet, lanky youth grinning at her side. "We fight sometimes, but he is my right arm.

"I don't know any other 13-year-old child who could have done me as proud or who I could have leaned on for support."

Mrs. Jones has set two goals for herself. One of them is strictly selfish, but she figures she deserves it.

"Our goal next year is to travel," Mrs. Jones said. She said a recent trip to East Orange, N.J., was her first traveling experience in 20 years. "I got a plane ride to take; that's something I want to do."

It won't be another 20 years before Mrs. Jones puts on her traveling shoes again. Perry III has already signed up to be his mom's running buddy for whatever adventure she has in store.

Her life has been slower, but normal, as far as Mrs. Jones is concerned. She goes out into the yard. She takes short walks. She cooks occasionally.

And sometimes, these routine activities make her tired.

But she has her own philosophy about getting by, one that she wants to pass on to others facing organ transplants or recovery from the difficult surgery.

Her second goal is to pass on this advice, which is as simple, uncomplicated and steadfast as the life she intends to lead.

"Just keep your faith in God and let the doctors do their work," Mrs. Jones said softly, placing her hand over young Perry's as he knelt beside her chair.

"Faith and trust in God will heal all. And that comes from the heart."

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