At the age of 14, Cook was diagnosed with kidney disease. By the age of 16, Cook was confined to a dialysis machine ending her “normal” teenage life. She soon transitioned from high school to home school, spending three days a week in four hour sessions of hemodialysis which left her with no energy to enjoy her limited free time. Due to her illness and the effects of dialysis, Cook missed most of her schooling and had to make up classes during the summers.
When Cook turned 18, she was told by a fellow dialysis patient that a kidney transplant might be an option. Determined not to be on dialysis for life, Cook immediately did her own research. Her sister, who was 19 at the time, offered to donate one of her kidneys, if compatible. As transplantation was rarely discussed 20 years ago, Cook’s parents were adamant about foregoing the procedure. They feared a transplant would “rock the boat” as Cook was doing relatively well on dialysis.
But for Cook, dialysis was not a life; it was confinement, pain, and exhaustion. She soon decided that if her sister was not a match, she would stop dialysis and let life take its course. Fortunately for Cook, her sister was a match and the transplant was performed when she was 19 years old. This month, Cook celebrates 20 years of success with her sister’s kidney.
Even before her transplant, Cook knew she wanted to be a nurse and work in the field of transplantation. “It was always around me. It was just part of my life,” explains Cook. After her transplant, Cook graduated from high school and attended college ultimately becoming a nurse. She began her career as a hospital floor nurse, soon moving to the ICU, and finally to transplant in 1999. Today, she works with liver transplant patients at St. Luke’s Cooley Transplant Center serving as an inspiration to patients and their families.
A transplant recipient herself, Cook says she encourages her patients to work hard on their recovery by being diligent with their medications and rehabilitation programs. “Patients often tell me that I don’t know how they feel and that I don’t understand what they are going through. I pause and say, ‘actually…. I do. Let me tell you my story.’”
During transplantation education classes, Cook will occasionally mention her experience as a transplant recipient. When she does, people sit quietly, look at one another, and look back up at Cook with surprise and sometimes shock. “I think they are shocked to see someone so healthy, young, and working. It’s as if I’m suddenly one of their own, not just their nurse. I’m happy to be a shoulder to cry on but I always balance it with my role as a nurse.”
Today, 20 years post-kidney transplant, Cook lives life to the fullest. Along with a vibrant career helping liver transplant patients with their recovery, her life is fulfilled with a wonderful husband and eight year old son. Cook is able to do the things she loves including the freedom to travel and wake boarding. “I love my job because I know that transplant works! I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t believe in it.”