VERSAILLES — Kimberly Hiegel feels like a new woman since she underwent a double transplant (kidney and pancreas) five years ago.
It’s not just because she has someone else’s organs in her body, but because she no longer has diabetes.
“I am great; I feel great,” said Hiegel. “Now I haven’t been sick or have had to go to the doctor or hospital for any issues. I feel like a whole new person.”
She spent 29 years as a diabetic, having been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 16. Four years before the transplants, she underwent an amputation mid-calf on her left leg. Her problems began while working as a nurse at Wayne Hospital.
“I didn’t fall or was in any accident,” she said. “I had swelling in my right ankle. One day at work I stopped a doctor and he ordered an X-ray.”
Results came back negative as it did on several other tests that were taken, but she wasn’t getting any better. The area became more swollen and sorer.
“Weeks into it, I was still working and walking on it,” she recalled. “It got to the point where I could barely get my shoes tied.”
Then, one night, the house supervisor came to her floor to see if any patients needed medications when she saw Hiegel with her leg up on a stool.
“We only had three patients that evening,” Hiegel said. “I told her I was not coming in on Saturday night. That Sunday, I went to get out of bed and my ankles literally were hanging on the floor. I called the doctor and he ordered me crutches.”
She was subsequently referred to an orthopedic surgeon, who ordered an MRI, and it was learned she had a Charcot fracture, stemming from her diabetes.
A few years later, she had a DEXA scan done to check for bone density, but she never heard anything back concerning the results; then a year later, after changing doctors, he found out she had had the scan and learned that she was suffering from osteoporosis.
“They did surgery 11 years ago in October and put a rod and screws in,” she said.
Later on, she acquired a new orthopedic doctor in Celina, who from X-rays he took, noted that she had nothing left, indicating she would have to live with that or have an amputation.
Hiegel opted for the latter, but had a request.
“My son was getting married in July, could we do it in August,” she asked him.
He obliged, and the amputation took place on Aug. 15, 2007, at St. Mary’s Hospital and 56 days later she got her first prosthesis.
“I went through three or four prosthetics until my leg stopped shrinking,” she said. “I really depended upon my parents, Norman and Judy Warner. Mom would come in the morning and do my laundry and cleaning. She washed my hair and me; and helped me get dressed. I lived eight weeks without a leg. Dad took me to appointments.”
Also helping out were two of her sisters, Jackie Seiber and Beth Martin, who would take her to appointments and such.
“And, Jackie always made sure we had something to eat at home,” Hiegel said.
Her nephrologist later on suggested dialysis through the vein and Heigel had to be trained to do dialysis.
“Lots of supplies were brought here [at her home] once a month,” she said.
She did that for 18 months and then after that was hooked up to a machine at home which ran for nine hours to warm up the saline.
“I would always be in bed at 9 to hook up and was there until 5 a.m.,” she said. “I lived like that for close to a year.”
It was in June 2010 that she asked her nephrologist if she could get a transplant, and he referred her to Ohio State University in May, with sister Beth and husband Doug taking her there.
“We were there four or five hours,” she said. “They looked at everything. I felt down in the dumps. They told me, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’”
She found out in August she had been accepted to be on a transplant list.
“At Thanksgiving, my aunt told me about Indianapolis University Hospital,” Hiegel remembered. “She gave me the number to the transplant center and I made an appointment to go over. Doctors there told her she should go for a kidney/pancreas transplant.”
“We’re number two for kidney and number one for pancreas,” a doctor told her.
Her sister-in-law at that time, Kristie, heard about the proposed transplant and offered to get tested, since her blood type was O positive, a universal type.
“She and I went to Indianapolis a couple of times and she was a match, but they found a tumor on her pancreas,” Hiegel said. “More tests were done and the tumor was benign. it was learned. We decided to set the kidney [renal] transplant up for the summertime, but my sister-in-law wanted to wait until after Vacation Bible School. So we set up a time for surgery and had to wait until Aug. 31, 2010.”
That day came and the two women stayed at the hospital from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., since the hospital was busy with a lot organ donors.
“They were slammed at Indy and ours kept getting pushed back,” Hiegel said. “They came in at 9 p.m. and told us to get ready. They took her and came and got me and put me in another room. When I work up, we were on the same floor but in different parts of the hospital. They gave me her right kidney and put it in my left side.”
Hiegel said she was out of the hospital in five days and her sister-in-law after seven or eight days.
“I went to Indy twice a week for six weeks,” she said. “I had to be there at 7 a.m. to have blood work and vitals checked. Blood work was done every week.”
One time, her urine was not right and doctors wanted her back at the hospital to have it checked again.
“They feared it was rejecting my kidney,” Hiegel said. “We got there at 730 p.m. and they did a kidney biopsy the next day. I had to lay flat for eight hours.”
One time she and sister Jackie had left the Indy hospital and were 20 miles west of Richmond, when they got a call from their youngest sister who was informing them that the doctor called and wanted her to contact him. Using a cellphone, Hiegel got hold of the doctor, who told her, “We might have a pancreas for you.”
“We turned around,” Hiegel said. “It was lunchtime and I always kept a bag packed. We got back to Indy, settled in, but the donor hadn’t died yet. I sat back in a bed and waited. The doctor told us not to leave. At 7 p.m., they moved me into another room. I was not nervous. I didn’t have my hopes built up. A nurse came in at midnight and said, ‘It will be at about 1 a.m. They have to fly it in.’ At a quarter after 2, the nurse said ‘Are you ready?’”
She went on, “Mom and Dad drove to Beth and Doug’s and came to the hospital. I heard voices about 8 in the morning. I was in ICU until the next day and on a regular floor only five days.
“It was on Oct. 22, 2011, that I got my pancreas…six weeks after I had my kidney transplant,” she said. “The pancreas came from a gentleman in Georgia.”
Hiegel, a The 1984 Greenville High School graduate, received her LPN from Upper Valley JVS in Piqua in 2000. She had worked at Family Health from 1984-89; for Dr. Platt from 1991-95; for Darke County Mental Health in 1995 and 1996; at Bob Evans for eight years while typing transcripts for doctors and going to school at JVS; and for Wayne Hospital from 2000-05.
Hiegel, who started working again last January as an a licensed practical nurse for Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, is the mother of two sons, Dan Whittington and Paul D. Hiegel, and has three grandchildren.
She didn’t indicate if she was limited to anything.
“Foods are my demon,” she said. “I have to watch what I eat. Food tastes so much better than when I was diabetic.”
This writer may be reached at 937-569-4315. Follow her on Facebook and join the conversation and get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.