Dana Whittaker is an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope today because of her late mother, Leah DeVaughn, who underwent three kidney transplants. “Even now, when I feel tired or it’s hard to keep moving on, I think, ‘If she could do it, there’s no reason I can’t.’ She’s still a motivating factor.”
Dana was only five when her mother was diagnosed with kidney failure in 1985. “All I knew was that I had a sick mom, but I didn’t understand,” recalls Dana. “I would ask, ‘How is she sick?’ She appeared normal, but she always put on that appearance of health.”
Working full time as a nurse manager, her mother would come home late, exhausted, Dana says. “But I was in cheerleading, and she attended all my games. And all of my Girl Scout meetings. You name it, she was there. As I get older, I marvel at how she managed to do all of those things.”
After Leah received her first transplant in 1988, “we thought everything was over,” Dana says, as the constant fatigue and dialysis treatments ceased. But in 1993 her transplanted kidney began failing, prompting Dana to assume the roles of housekeeper and caregiver. Eventually, Leah’s brother was determined to be a donor match for his sister. And he was.
“We were ecstatic,” Dana says. “We were saying, ‘This is it! She’ll never go through this again!’” Tragically, just two years later, that kidney failed as well. Devastation and depression spread throughout the family as a weakened Leah returned to six more years of dialysis.
Dana recently chanced upon a letter she wrote to her mother before her third transplant in 2003. “I said she had to keep fighting because she still had to see me get married,” Dana says. “I wasn’t even engaged yet.” Leah must have taken her words to heart. Her third transplant lasted 10 years, the longest yet, before other complications led to her death at 59 in 2013 — on the birthday of Dana’s daughter, Vanessa. “You have to believe there’s some connection there,” says Dana. “My daughter talks about her every day, prays for her every night.”
Dana says Leah was able to donate her eyes, skin and bones. “Of course I’m a donor. Why wouldn’t I be?” Dana asks. “Transplant patients enriched my life. I could have lost my mother at five. I get so passionate talking about donation. I mean, you would want me to have my mother, right? So why wouldn’t you want to do that for somebody else?”