Gift of Hope Staff Member Dawn Williamson Waits for Lifesaving Kidney Transplant

Dawn Williamson, 56, is the front desk receptionist at the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network headquarters in Itasca, Ill. Prior to the novel coronavirus outbreak, it was common to see Dawn visiting with coworkers during her breaks or lunch hour. She’s always friendly and quick to ask, “how are you doing today?” or to share one of her many travel stories. So, when staff members suddenly stopped seeing Dawn’s smiling face at the office in January of 2019, many expressed concerns and hoped that maybe she’d gone off on another travel adventure. Unfortunately, Dawn, well known for her globetrotting, was not traveling. She had embarked on a different type of journey — one she never imagined she’d experience. She’d become ill and was on the kidney transplant waiting list.

Dawn and her colleagues at Gift of Hope know what it means to be on the transplant waiting list. The wait can be long or short and unfortunately many people die waiting, but dawn isn’t focused on the wait. She is extremely positive and living each day to its fullest. After taking some time off work to begin dialysis treatment she returned to her post at Gift of Hope in August of 2019 smiling brighter than ever and plotting her next travel adventures.

In her role at Gift of Hope, Dawn is many times one of the first persons a potential donor family member grieving the loss of a loved one speaks with — a job Dawn finds extremely rewarding.

“I don’t mind talking to people even when they’re sad,” said Dawn. “They’re upset, and oftentimes crying. The way you talk to people can help to calm them and that makes me feel better too. When I’m talking to them It feels like I can physically see them and feel their pain.”

Dawn loves her job, but her true passion is traveling. She has trekked the country and voyaged across the world and is determined to continue doing so despite her health limitations.

Staying Strong and Active

Dawn was diagnosed with type II diabetes in 2004. On her doctor’s orders, she immediately made the necessary adjustments to manage her illness. It wasn’t until 13 years later, in 2017, after a routine doctor’s visit that her doctor advised her to see a nephrologist because one of her exams pointed to possible renal failure. For the next two years Dawn was even more diligent about following her doctor’s instructions and everything looked good. She was happy, healthy and travelling every chance she got. In March of 2019 everything suddenly changed.

“I started feeling like my stomach was upset at night, like I was nauseous,” said Dawn. “On March 8, my boyfriend Mel rushed me to the hospital where doctors discovered my blood pressure was very high and after further testing, they informed me that I had to start dialysis immediately.”

Dawn began treatment March 15. Although she knew that day could come, the deterioration of her kidney caught her by surprise because she had been feeling very strong and healthy. The transition from regular life to life on dialysis was not easy for Dawn who also enjoys swimming, loves going out to new restaurants and to the movies. Everything stopped, including work, because she needed to focus on her health and adjust to her new routine.

Dawn pushes herself to get up and go every day and she feels that helps to keep her energized and in good spirits. After a month on dialysis, Dawn started taking her grandkids Jaelen Carter, 2, and Shania Nicole, 11 to school in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon.

“At first I was sleeping a lot, but I couldn’t keep doing that,” Dawn said. “My daughter, Nicole Michelle, moved closer to my house and the extra activity with the children and moving around made me feel much better. I also started walking the Midway Crossings, the connection between the north and south parts of the University of Chicago campus, for added exercise.”

Dawn’s family members and friends have all rallied behind her, and a couple have even offered to go through the necessary blood testing to see if they’re a match to Dawn. However, Dawn has asked them to take their time and think about it some more.

“I don’t want them to feel obligated or under pressure to help me; some of them are older and others are young and have children,” said Dawn. It’s a big thing to ask of anyone, really. “For the time being, I feel healthy enough to keep waiting, maybe for a deceased donor or an altruistic living donor.”

July 2020 will mark a year since Dawn added herself to the kidney transplant waiting list at the University of Chicago Hospital.

Waiting for the Call

Waiting is the only option for the more than 112,100 people on the transplant waiting list, who like Dawn, wake up every day hoping to receive a call from their doctor letting them know they found a compatible lifesaving organ.

The solution to the wait?

Donors; living or deceased — generous people who choose to offer the gift of life after they pass away or while they are still alive.

There are different ways to help offer hope to the thousands who need it. One way is to join the national organ/tissue registry. This ensures that the decision to donate will be honored after death. It is also important to communicate the desire to become a deceased donor to family and friends so that they are aware of the decision and don’t feel the burden to have to make it when the time comes.

Living donation is a different type of donation opportunity, which continues garnering quite a bit of public attention. Living donation allows a physically and mentally healthy adult to provide a designated recipient — or a stranger — with one of his or her non-vital organs. Although living donors cannot donate vital organs like the heart, they can offer a kidney or a lobe of one lung in addition to sections of the pancreas, liver or intestine.

Hope for a New Dawn

Dawn is saddened by the thought that there’s a chance her donor will be deceased, because she knows the devastation families suffer when they lose a loved one. What she knows for sure is that she will be extremely grateful to her donor no matter what the circumstances.

“For now, I pray for the day I receive the call,” Dawn said. “I want to be strong and healthy to honor my donor and their gift. What motivates me now is gratitude. When I wake up every morning, I shake off my doldrums and get going. A lot of people don’t make it to another day.”

Dawn plans to remain strong and positive. She looks forward to a healthy future filled with loved ones and a lot more traveling.

“I want to be healthy because I want to keep really living this life,” said Dawn. “When I say, ‘really live it’ I mean, I’m not going to complain that ‘I’m tired or sick,’ I’m going to live it till the wheels fall off. I just want to see the world and everything and everybody in it” I’m a Chicagoan, born and raised, but baby I can move around this globe”