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Posted January 25th, 2016 under Personal View

A Blessing in Disguise

Tags: Family, Wife, A Charitable Life, Be The Good, Organ Donation, Kidney Failure

A Blessing in Disguise

This blog was written based on an interview with Ashley Preusz, wife of Steve Preusz, the Founder of A Charitable Life and kidney transplant recipient. This is Ashley’s story about her struggle and the immense strength she demonstrated while being by Steve’s side as he went through kidney failure.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “You gain strength and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do things which you think you cannot do.”

It was one of the most anticipated weekends of the year for college football, the weekend of the University of Texas v. the University of Oklahoma Red River Rivalry game. Unfortunately, just as the game between the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners is notoriously unpredictable, the weekend was equally as unpredictable for Steve and Ashley. It started out as a normal weekend, drinks on Sixth Street in downtown Austin with friends in preparation for an epic battle between the Longhorns and Sooners. Little did they know that in the early hours of the next morning, Steve would be fighting for his life. “We came home early from having some drinks with our friends downtown because Steve wasn’t feeling like himself.” Ashley knew it was particularly severe when Steve, who is not one to go to the doctor, requested to go to the emergency room. Her first thought was that he was having heart failure. He was very swollen, short of breath, and experiencing flu like symptoms. Although she was scared, she figured this was something the doctors could fix right then and there. She had no idea they were about to start a battle that would change their lives forever.

Ashley was 27 and Steve was 29 at the time the doctors told them Steve was at six percent kidney function. “After the initial mixture of shock and overwhelming sadness when the doctor told us that Steve was in kidney failure, I couldn’t help but think that we were way too young for this and this couldn’t possibly be happening to us.” The reality of the situation did not truly hit Ashley until she saw Steve in the hospital for two straight weeks undergoing every test imaginable and looking less and less like the strong man he was two weeks prior. “It was like a living nightmare. At first they had hopes they could reverse the kidney failure with a chemo pill and dialysis, but after a short while with little progress, we realized that a transplant might be our only option.”

Ashley is quick to speak about Steve and all of the challenges he was facing and obstacles he had to overcome, but underneath the surface of the obvious issues was a deep sadness of confronting the mortality of her soul mate. Seeing Steve quickly decline from being so strong and vibrant to weak, debilitated, and dependent on others took its toll on Ashley. On the outside, she was his rock, strong and steady and lacking any outward expression of pain. However, on the inside, she was full of fear, anxiety, and emotion. “When you love someone so much, you can’t even describe what it’s like not to be able to fix what they are going through. The feelings and emotions are indescribable. How do you confront the idea of death and losing someone you can’t imagine life without? These were the inward struggles I was going through all while trying to hold it together on the outside.” For a period of time, Steve was supposed to receive at home dialysis and Ashley was responsible for hooking him up and making sure everything was done properly. The amount of stress due to that immense responsibility combined with her fear that he might not survive were building. “I was the one responsible for a vital part of his treatment and I was so scared that I wouldn’t get it right and that I would hurt him. I felt like his life was in my hands and it made me so scared that sometimes it was hard to breathe.” Ashley struggled to keep her emotions under wraps in order to stay strong for Steve. She knew she had to remain positive even though she thought about the possibility of him dying every single day and it shook her to her core. “I knew Steve was going through enough without worrying about me. I would wait until he fell asleep and then I would cry snuggled up against his back. I was so scared that I would lose him.” Even though many years have passed, Ashley’s voice still shakes from fighting back the tears as she recalls the pain of this memory.

Madeline L’Engle once said “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you appreciate the light.”

Over 200 people were tested at San Antonio Methodist in order to find a potential donor match for Steve. Eventually, Steve’s cousin, Kurby, was determined to be an eligible donor. Although it is common knowledge that transplants are expensive for recipients, the donor’s expenses are often overlooked. With the help of The National Kidney Foundation (NKF), Kurby was able to take time off, stay in a hotel close to the hospital, and receive help with travel expenses. Without the assistance from NKF, Kurby might not have been able to take the time off and afford the expenses necessary to be Steve’s donor. “I will never forget what it was like when Steve came out of surgery with his new kidney. It was like a million Christmases and birthdays all combined into one moment.” Despite the physical and emotional struggle, Steve and Ashley realize that they are among the lucky ones. “Everyone was so compassionate and kind to us while we were going through one of the toughest times of our lives and we wanted to make sure that we could help people going through similar situations.” Thus, out of one of the darkest times in their life, a very bright light came forth and that was the creation of A Charitable Life (ACL), a charity started by Steve with the motto, “be the good,” that is structured to help both donors and recipients with the ancillary expenses associated with organ donation.

Four years post-kidney transplant and since the inception of ACL, life has been full speed ahead for Steve and Ashley. However, Ashley always remembers the experience that brought them where they are today. “We have learned to appreciate every day. The little things don’t matter and we have such an appreciation for life, love, health, and the path we have been put on because of the struggles we overcame.” Her hope for the future is that more people become organ donors and decide to give the gift of life. As for Steve, he has not let this experience bring him down. To him, the scar from his kidney transplant is just like a tattoo, only with a better story, and a much deeper meaning.

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