Former Lake County leader stays positive as she awaits a new kidney
Although a match has not been found yet and her health continues to suffer, longtime Lake County leader and public servant Bonnie Thomson Carter is in good spirits because of the 64 people who volunteered to donate a kidney to her.
"I have no doubt that there is a match for me there, absolutely none," Carter said.
It's rare for so many to come forward for one person, according to Dr. John Friedewald, the medical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
After a match is found for Carter, all who volunteered to donate for her will be asked if they would like to donate to someone else in need instead.
"It's always great when someone can generate such interest in living kidney donation," Friedewald said. "Oftentimes, those donors start a kidney chain which can facilitate a lot of transplants down the road."
Most of the people were strangers to Carter before learning of her plight from news reports or seeing yard signs for a donor campaign, which bear the message, "YOU can give Bonnie the gift of life."
"It's been very emotional," Carter said. "It's very heartwarming to know people who know nothing about me are willing to do this."
One woman who volunteered to give her a kidney might have died otherwise, Carter said. During one of the required tests, the woman learned she had precancerous cells and was eliminated as a possible kidney donor.
"She called me and said, 'I'm going to get this eliminated so I can donate to you,'" Carter said. "I said 'No, you do this for you.' I'm so grateful she found out because she could have died."
It can take anywhere from six weeks to three months for a volunteer to be approved or eliminated from kidney donation. Carter said so far 22 donors have been ruled out and eight have been placed in reserve, which means it's likely one of them will be used if a better match isn't found.
In 2019, Carter was diagnosed with an aggressive multiple myeloma cancer. A succession of treatments worked against the cancer, and Carter is in remission. But the damage to her kidneys remains.
As a result, the 66-year-old Ingleside grandmother of 10 has to receive regular, lengthy dialysis treatments which become more difficult as time goes on, she said.
Carter, who served 20 years on the Lake County Board, decided last spring to take her health troubles public and ask others to consider becoming a living donor -- for her or for someone else awaiting a miracle.
While she waits for a match, Carter's health continues to fail. Her low blood pressure, body shakes and lightheadedness means she might pass out while walking, so she doesn't get up without knowing what she can grab if she falls.
But she remains hopeful that a match will be found soon and she will be able to live for years to come.
"My heart jumps every time I get a call from Northwestern," Carter said with a laugh.
For more information about live organ donation and Carter's struggle, visit bonniesgiftoflife.com.