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The best gift ever

Woman shares a kidney to help her ailing sister

December 9, 2012
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Ishpeming resident Michelle Myotte Mulder said she's getting the best Christmas present ever.

A kidney.

After more than three long years of waiting, Mulder, 33, is scheduled to receive a kidney from a most special donor, her younger sister Carrie, 30, in transplant surgery scheduled at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison Dec. 19.

Article Photos

Michelle Myotte Mulder, left, said she’s getting the best Christmas present ever — a kidney. After waiting more than three years, Mulder, 33, is scheduled to receive a kidney from her younger sister Carrie Myotte, right. The operation is set for Dec. 19. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Mulder)

"How do I feel? It's almost indescribable," Mulder said. "I want to be excited, but there's still a chance, up to the date of the surgery, that it could be stopped. I don't want to crash if that happens. It would be awful to be that close and have something go wrong. There's so much involved and everything has to be just right."

Mulder, who was featured in The Mining Journal's Organ Donation series in April 2011, has been undergoing dialysis three times a week for years as she waited for a match. Since she was a teen, Mulder has faced a number of health challenges, including lupus diagnosed when she was a senior in high school in 1997. She was diagnosed with thrombotic thrombopenic purpura, a blood disorder, in 2005, then the other ailments on her list includes having: an Adam 13 gene, which is what caused the TTP; rheumatoid arthritis; and Reynaud's syndrome, which is a circulatory system condition that causes extreme sensitivity to cold and heat.

"The doctors call me a 'mystery mystery' because I have had so many things happen," Mulder said.

When the transplant was first recommended, Mulder's mother, Roxanne Decker, was sure she'd be a match.

"But she wasn't," Mulder said. "Sometimes it's an antibody thing when someone is that close to you."

Other family members were eliminated through testing, but sister Carrie was a potential match.

"Carrie had a baby and we had to wait a year to see if she would work out as a donor," Mulder said. "In April, her and I went for some testing. We did some here (in Marquette) then we had to go to Madison so the doctors there could see her."

Testing included how their blood would react when mixed, which can give an indication on how the kidney will react as well.

The sisters talked to the organ donation coordinator in Madison, then sat down and had a long talk in October about whether to proceed. They decided yes.

"Then we went back (to Madison) in November and found out the reactions were OK which means I am not going to reject (Carrie's) kidney," Mulder said. "We passed all the guidelines in April, then again in November."

The two talked further when Mulder went home to attend a Band Perry concert with her sister, working to find a date that would fit Myotte's schedule.

"We called the transplant coordinator and said the second week of December would be when it was OK," Mulder said. "She called us back with Dec. 19 as the date."

Mulder and Myotte will make the trip to Wisconsin with their parents; Mulder's husband Travis and their high-school-age daughter, Lacey; and Myotte's fiance, Jim Blackie, and their three young sons.

"My mom said two of her four children are having surgery so of course she was going to be there," Mulder said with a smile. "So we're invading Madison as a group."

The smile is Mulder's most common facial expression, which surprises many who know of the trials she has experienced already. But to her, a smile is the only way to go.

"First and foremost, my faith lifts me up. I was told at 17 I only had six months to live," she said. "I was told that again when I was 21 and again when I was 24. Now I am 33 and I'm still here. You will never convince me my faith didn't have something to do with that. That's how I stay positive.

"My husband and my daughter are my rocks. But they can be my (verbal) punching bags, too. They're the people I can unleash on, because they're my safe haven. I don't ever have to put a cheery face on for them. They understand.

"I have decided that meltdowns don't heal me. And when I get down, I tell myself to quit the pity party," Mulder said. "I look at dialysis as a family. I get to see these people three times as week. Dialysis is my job, but instead of a paycheck, I get my life.

"Sure, I get frustrated and my stress levels get a little high," she said. "My memory has been a little off and that's hard for me, because I am a control freak."

After having dialysis three times as week for three years, it will be strange to not have to go any longer, once the transplant surgery is a success.

"I have told (the other patients) that I am going to keep coming up to sit with them, to cheer them on," Mulder said. "I really can't thank the staff, the nurses, here enough. What they do is such hard work, but they've all been so wonderful."

She will have her last dialysis at Marquette General Dec. 14 or 15, then drive to Madison Dec. 18, when she and her sister - hopefully - will find all is clear and their surgery time will be given.

It's been a long, tough journey, but Mulder has no regrets.

"The experiences I have had have made me who I am. I am a stronger person for what I have gone through," she said. "I encourage anyone who doesn't know already about organ donation to find out more. Blood donation, organ donation: It's a great way to save lives.

"I am living proof."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is rprusi@miningjournal. net.



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