Tangela Barrett-Robinson had just had her first child and was pregnant with another. As a young Mom in the early stages of her life, she figured she had much more time-relevant things to worry about than her health. However, during the 6-month checkup for her second pregnancy, she was rushed to the hospital with preeclampsia blood pressure that was affecting her kidneys. After initially being put on bed rest and blood pressure pills, Tangela believed the worst was behind her; her baby had been born, and she was holding up well.
During another visit in January of 2000, the doctor popped his head in to tell her he’d see her shortly but immediately stopped in his tracks to ask Tangela to call her family to meet her at the hospital. She thought to herself, “No blood, no vitals, no nothing?” Her doctor had seen jaundice, and as quickly as she could register what was happening, she was in the ER with tubes in her chest. Just ten days before her 28th birthday, she was now a dialysis patient.
The start of her dialysis journey was not easy; she had an interview for her dream job scheduled the day she went into the ER, and now had to pass up that opportunity. Her first treatment was “the worst pain [she] had ever felt”; she “thought [she] was dying.” As a young woman, she never expected to be on dialysis, and in her first session, surrounded by older patients in wheelchairs, she felt out of place. However, once she changed shifts to join one with more people like her, her perspective changed.
She made friends in her dialysis group and accepted her new reality; she began to get more used to the treatment and got back to coaching her daughters in basketball and being a cheer mom. She couldn’t get back into the rigor of her finance career path while on treatment, but after filling in as a substitute teacher when her aunt (and the principal of a local school) needed one, she found a new purpose. Helping children helped keep her afloat. While taking back her independence in the little ways she could, Tangela “made dialysis work for her.”
She learned about the Georgia Transplant Foundation while on dialysis. She wanted to go back to school for computer science and came across GTF in a phone book. GTF helped her get into Chattahoochee Tech, and when she graduated, the JumpStart Program helped get her back into the workforce.
After being on dialysis for seven years, she experienced an episode where she passed out on the machine. What-ifs started going through her head, and she began having severe anxiety whenever she went to get treatment. She tried nocturnal dialysis so she could sleep during the treatment, but the clinic was far from home, so it didn’t seem to help. Finally, she gave home hemodialysis a try. She was skeptical of having to inject herself, but after some training, she became the first home hemodialysis patient in her area. She found herself with more freedom, was able to travel, and her energy skyrocketed. Tangela was able to come off the blood pressure medicine, eat more, drink more, and enjoy more.
After 12 years of dialysis, Tangela felt she couldn’t take anymore; she needed a transplant, so she “asked God for a miracle.” In June 2012, she received a call that they had a kidney for her, but when she got to the transplant center, she learned it was not a match and that she had a high likelihood of rejection. She decided to be proactive to reduce her antibodies and decrease the chance of rejection.
Finally, in September of 2013, she received another call. After the disappointment of last time, she wondered if it was even worth going to see if it was a match. She wasn’t convinced, but her daughter assured her, “You are going; you’re next in line for your miracle.” With the words of encouragement from her daughter, Tangela traveled back to the transplant center with renewed confidence.
Upon arriving at the transplant center, Tangela, who is a diehard Georgia Bulldog, took it as a sign that today was not her day when she saw her nurses wearing Alabama and Florida gear. But alas, they told her they had the perfect kidneys for her. She was shocked by the fact that they had said kidneys plural and found out that her donor was a toddler who had passed away. Thinking of her daughters, Tangela had a brief meltdown but realized that “someone wanted their child to live on through her.”
Feeling empathetic and grateful, she endured the 9-hour procedure and received her new kidneys. Regarding her donor, she said, “Live your life for the person who didn’t get to live theirs.” Every year, she remembers her donor by doing something that would’ve been age-appropriate for their birthday, whether it’s going on a shopping spree or going to see a Disney movie; she hopes somehow her donor is enjoying it too.
This year, on the 21st of September, Tangela celebrated the 11th anniversary of her transplant. During that time, she became an advocate for home hemodialysis, explaining to people all the ways it made her feel more hopeful and free. She tries to attend as many Trends iN Transplant conferences as she can, has served as a Mentor for other transplant patients, and talks to people every day about their options for dialysis.
To Tangela, GTF is about “education and support.” Walking into her first TNT conference in 2003, seeing all of the representation, and realizing there were so many people going through the same thing as she inspired so much confidence. Being able to talk to them and reassure them that she was going to be okay instilled hope in her. “Gaining research and education about what transplant is and how it’s going to save [her]” motivated her to keep going.
Tangela persevered through so much hardship and always maintained a positive outlook and faith that her miracle would come. We’re so thankful that she continues to give back in the ways that she can, and we’re so proud to call her a member of the GTF family!
Click here to learn about the JumpStart Program: https://gatransplant.org/our-programs/education-community-programs/jumpstart-program/
Click here to learn about and pre-register for the Atlanta TNT Conference: https://live.classy.org/register/atl/db6bd1e3-aa21-47bd-a588-d87f396b421e