Candy Wagner, 34, knows she needs a new pancreas, but getting a transplant has proven to be a hard task.
Wagner’s story begins in California, where she was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of 19. There, she had three children, Dorsey, 18; Josh, 15; and Alisha, 8. The four moved to Kentucky five years ago.
Like many people with diabetes, Wagner learned to give herself injections of insulin, since her body doesn’t produce enough on its own. She says her blood sugar can jump from low to high levels in the span of an hour, for “no reason whatsoever.”
“My blood sugar has never been in control,” Wagner said. Gradually, her condition became worse, and she was diagnosed with brittle uncontrollable diabetes.
She had the benefits of a federal medical card to help pay her medical bills and was referred to doctors at the University of Kentucky to undergo a series of screening tests that would tell whether a transplant would benefit her. “It’s a long procedure to get listed,” Wagner said. When the results came back, Wagner found out she was eligible, and she was put on the waiting list for a transplant, where patients wait an average of four months.
Then, back in California, her children’s father died. Wagner and her children were available for survivors’ benefits, which would bring her family $60 more per month, but that extra money put her over the limit for her medical card. “They told me I had no choice in the matter, I had to take what was more,” Wagner said.
Because Wagner was over the limit and had no way of paying for a transplant, she was also taken off the waiting list for a transplant and put on an inactive list. That was two years ago.
“Does that mean that my life’s not worth saving because I don’t have medical insurance?” she said. “It gets very frustrating and aggravating.” Since she has to show that she can pay for the transplant before she can be put back on the waiting list, she enlisted the aid of the National Transplant Foundation 11Ú2 years ago, hoping that its services, which include recommending fund-raisers, would help her.
But once she was in contact with the foundation, Wagner met another brick wall. In order to start the fund-raising process, the foundation requires a list of 25 volunteers, who with their signatures promise to help with the efforts.
That has proven difficult for Wagner, who is prevented from holding a job because of her illness.
“One thing I love about Harrodsburg is that your neighbors care,” Wagner said, but added that she’s still relatively new, and making contacts with the community is hard. She is five volunteers short of having a complete list. Volunteers must also be 18 to sign the list, a requirement that prevents all of her children except the oldest son from helping.
“That’s the first thing he did for his 18th birthday,” Wagner said. People on her list now include friends, doctors, volunteers from the Danville First Church of God, and the Mercer County school system.
She already has ideas for potential fund-raisers, including car washes, bake sales, and a local battle of the bands.
“Local bands would play just for a chance to be heard,” she said. “We figured that would be a good way to bring in a large variety of people.” For now though, Wagner’s children are helping her with housework. “My kids take care of most of my stuff,” she said. “They don’t really have a life either because of me.”
Wagner also gets help from her fiancee, Ernie Meeks, whom she says will come home from work most days and start working on household chores.
She said she also relies on her “lifesaver,” doctor Craig Enlow of Danville. “He’s always there, not just as my doctor, but as a friend, too,” Wagner said. She said it helps to have someone she can talk to. “It takes a lot of toll on a person when you’re dealing with this day in and day out,” she said.
And Wagner does have a lot to deal with: She estimates that she is in the hospital once a month, and that she spends $250 per month on medicine. Not including her doctor’s bills, she owes the UK hospital more than $200,000. On top of that, Wagner’s health problems persist.
“If I don’t get a transplant soon, something drastic is going to happen,” she said. She has lost feeling from her mid-calf down and has already had laser surgery on her eyes, which may not produce permanent results.
She said that eventually her kidneys will fail and her organs will shut down. If she got a pancreas transplant now, doctors estimate a 92 percent chance of success, meaning her condition wouldn’t worsen but stay the same. “They can’t reverse anything that’s already happened,” she said. One of Wagner’s hopes is that she’ll be able to see her daughter graduate from high school.
“All she’s ever known is a mom who’s sick,” Wagner said. “She doesn’t know when she comes home from school if I’m going to be in the hospital.” Wagner also said that, if healthy in the future, she’d like to use her 1995 GED to go back to school, do social work, or do diabetic teaching work. She has also considered opening her own business.
“Believe me, if I got the chance, I’d do something — I wouldn’t just sit around,” she said.
“The hardest part for me is that my three kids have already lost their dad,” she said. “They’ve had to give up a lot because of my diabetes.” Wagner is scheduled to have more evaluation tests done July 5.