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Hagwood's cousin offers her the kidney she needs

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By Jesef Williams

There's a photo album inside Crystal Hagwood's apartment that reminds her of all the things she used to do.

When she attended Lancaster High School, Hagwood was a member of the cheerleading squad and loved to play basketball. She even did some part-time modeling.

Hagwood enjoyed exercise and never thought twice about going from place to place. Now her health requires her to stay indoors a lot.

Hagwood, 26, suffers from diabetes and kidney failure. The diabetes has resulted in anemia, restless leg syndrome, high blood pressure and poor circulation.

She takes between 10 and 15 pills a day and has to go through dialysis treatment every five hours.

The pills make her tired and the dialysis limits how long she can stay out. Simple tasks such as washing clothes and cooking cause her fatigue. And because of the restless leg condition, Hagwood has to wear special circulation stockings to help her blood flow and keep her legs warm.

She has to watch what she eats, too. Dairy products are a no-no and she has to stay away from foods containing phosphorous, such as pizza, chocolate and nuts.

Working is out of the question and it's common for Hagwood to have multiple doctor appointments in a week. She was a flight attendant for U.S. Airways, but has been on medical leave since September.

Hagwood is in desperate need of a pancreas and kidney transplant.

When thinking about what she has to endure, Hagwood sometimes cries and asks God, "Why?"

But Hagwood has a reason to rejoice.

Her second cousin, Lenitta Truesdale of Lancaster, has volunteered to donate her a kidney.

Truesdale learned about Hagwood's situation shortly after Hagwood's church, Mount Carmel AME Zion, held a benefit program for her in October. She saw a story and ad in The Lancaster News that listed Hagwood's contact info.

Hagwood's blood type is O+, meaning that her donor has to be either O+ or O-. Truesdale is an O+.

"I called the next day," said Truesdale.

Truesdale, also 26, has gone through all the required tests and is now waiting to hear back from Hagwood's doctors as to when the transplant can occur.

"When I got the phone call (about Truesdale wanting to donate her kidney), I was hollering," Hagwood said. "I was so excited. It made my heart just explode. That means a lot to me."

Tough decisions

Although Hagwood has a kidney donor waiting in the wings, she still faces a major decision.

Hagwood's preference is to have a kidney and pancreas operation done at the same time.

If she gets a kidney without a new pancreas, her bad pancreas could cause her new kidney to fail, too.

But there's at least a two- to four-year wait to have the dual procedure done at any of the regional medical centers her insurance honors. Those include Emory University in Atlanta, Duke University in Durham, N.C., and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

"I might have to wait three years," Hagwood said. "I don't want to get the kidney from Lenitta and have it go bad again."

But Hagwood is seriously considering going through with just the kidney operation now, anything to make her feel better. That operation would likely take place at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

"When you've been going through something for so long – when you're tired of feeling tired, you'll risk anything to get what you need," Hagwood said while looking at her insulin pump she wears all day.

If Hagwood elects to just have the kidney transplant now, she would need to get a pancreas transplant within six months. Doctors say that's the time frame between the two operations that would allow for the safest healing.

The cost of the transplant surgeries will be $278,000. Fortunately, medical insurance through U.S. Airways will cover most of the cost. The event at Mount Carmel AME Zion brought in about $11,000 to help her pay expenses not covered by insurance.

Hagwood is grateful for the community support. She's especially grateful for the gift her cousin has said she's willing to donate.

"This is the gift of life," she said. "It's priceless."

Truesdale's offer of her kidney has brought her closer to her cousin.

Before the two didn't consider themselves close friends at all. But now, they talk on a regular basis and go with one another to their doctor's appointments.

Truesdale said she feels as though she's saving a life.

Hagwood hopes the operation will help her regain her active life. She wants to resume work as a flight attendant and hopes to get married and have children one day.

"I'm so ready to start feeling better. There's so much stress on me," she said. "I'm ready to get back to work and do the things I used to do."

Contact Jesef Williams at 283-1152 or jwilliams@thelancasternews.com