Area transplant patient receives anonymous gift

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wess Holston was facing a grim holiday season this year, and his six children, ages 3 to 12, were expecting to wake up Christmas morning with few to no presents under their tree. But that was before Holston's wife, Katrina, received a phone call regarding a monetary donation from a Denver-area family.

"She cried. She started crying about it, and then she told me," Holston said. "It was a tremendous relief."

Thanks to the giving spirit of the anonymous family, the Holston family of Sedgewickville, Mo., will have an uplifting holiday -- something not thought possible before last week.

"Before the donation, we were just going to do what we could do, and get what we could manage to get," he said. "With me being unable to work, Christmas wasn't going to be like it used to be."

But Holston isn't struggling this holiday season because of a job layoff or a slumping economy. He is experiencing financial difficulties because of a disability and mounting medical bills.

Holston was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 16 years old.

"I experienced tremendous weight loss -- about 27 pounds in almost two weeks," he said. "I was real weak and could hardly lift up anything. And I was constantly going to the bathroom."

He suffers today from the same symptoms, which have only gotten worse.

"I am still weak, and I'm still up at least four or five times a night using the restroom. The only difference now is the leg pain, the neuropathy. I also have it in my stomach."

Before Holston's symptoms became uncontrollable, he was a painter and drywall installer. Now, at only 30 years old, he can no longer work or even be left alone. He suffers from extreme leg pain, is unable to get out of bed many days and struggles to keep solid foods down. To make matters worse, he has no health insurance.

In August, Holston turned to the National Foundation of Transplants for help. NFT is a not-for-profit organization that helps raise funds for transplant patients, and it is the organization that led the Denver-area family to Holston.

The family, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted NFT and said their relative had been through a transplant and it was difficult during the holidays. The medical bills placed so much financial stress that Christmas presents for the three children were not an option. Remembering this difficult time, the family wanted to help a transplant patient in need.

"They asked if we could recommend someone who had small children and would be unlikely to have a Christmas this year," said Mandy Scherer, NFT's director of public relations. "Amidst raising donations for a transplant, I knew the Holstons were struggling financially."

But now the Holstons have the means to cross off some of the things on the children's wish list. Christmas morning will be full of surprise when they awake to find unexpected gifts to tear into.

"We still haven't gotten all the Christmas shopping done yet, but we were able to get the things the kids really wanted for Christmas," Holston said. "We haven't told the kids yet, because we want it to be a surprise."

While the donation will enable the Holston family to have a true Christmas celebration, they remain hopeful for the gift of a pancreas transplant.

Holston's pancreas can't make insulin, which unlocks cells so they can use sugar. Unregulated sugar damages nerve endings and can cause seizures -- which Holston already has -- comas and even death. For eight years, he's had an insulin pump that helps control his blood sugar, but doctors say that a pancreas transplant is essential to his survival.

Holston has been on the waiting list for a pancreas for about six months now, but he said the problem has been finding a transplant center that will perform a pancreas transplant alone.

"I have Medicaid, but they won't help me out unless I have a kidney transplant too," he explained. "My kidneys aren't the greatest, but if I could get the pancreas transplant I should straighten up."

He said the transplant centers in St. Louis perform a pancreas transplant in conjunction with a kidney transplant, so his transplant will need to be done in Memphis, Tenn.

The cost is about $300,000, but a transplant is a financial obligation that never ends. "It's a lifetime of expenses. It requires follow-up evaluations and anti-rejection medications," Scherer said.

Holston, along with help from the NFT, continue to raise funds for the surgery and medical bills. To make donations to Wess Holston, visit www.transplants.org and search for his name.

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