Remaining optimistic through chronic illness

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Around 26 million Americans live with chronic kidney disease. Each year, only about 17,000 of the 101,000 Americans on the waiting list for a lifesaving kidney transplant will receive one.1 Deandrea Cox, a 10-year employee of SunTrust, faced this reality head-on when her husband Jim’s kidneys started failing in 2006.

Jim was placed on a transplant list around the same time that Deandrea started working at SunTrust. He started dialysis treatment in 2007, and in 2010, Jim was able to receive a transplant.

“In order for you to not reject the transplant, you're on anti-rejection drugs, which suppress your immune system,” Deandrea explains. Within four months after the transplant, a common virus that many people can fight off damaged his new kidney. Jim restarted dialysis and went back on the kidney transplant list. A living donor stepped up in 2015, and Jim received his second life-saving transplant.

Facing the costs

Jim lost his job in commercial construction in 2008, adding a layer of financial stress to the emotional stress already taking its toll on their family. “The stress of going from two salaries to one led to a great fear of what would happen if I lost my job,” Deandrea explains. Anti-rejection drugs can cost up to $3,000 per month. The peritoneal dialysis—or blood filtering, done from home as opposed to in a medical facility—can cost in excess of $53,000 a year. And Jim often required multiple hospitalizations for ongoing treatments.

“When I realized that my husband may not work again, I knew that I needed to step up my value,” Deandrea says. “I decided to focus on going back to school. I got my master’s degree, along with my CPA certification and Project Management Professional certification.” 

In addition, Deandrea and Jim joined the onUp Movement to keep their finances on track. “Through onUp, we utilized the tips for reducing expenses and debt to help us get debt free,” Deandrea says. “One of the most helpful tools for us has been online banking. It’s helped us organize and simplify our finances. Being able to pay bills from anywhere, even a hospital room, has been instrumental.”

Paying it forward

Deandrea has used her experiences to assist others who might be in a similar situation. She jumped at the opportunity to volunteer her time promoting both the onUp Movement and organ donation awareness through SunTrust’s People with Disabilities Inclusion Network. “Just because Jim got a transplant didn't mean that it was over for us. And I couldn't leave other people behind,” she says. “So that's where I got very active trying to get people to sign up to be organ donors. About 12 people die every day waiting for a kidney transplant, and I'd like to help reduce that number.” For more information and to register to become an organ donor, visit organdonor.gov. 

Jim continues to keep up with his treatments, and Deandrea remains grateful knowing that their situation could have been worse. And they both have learned that getting by on less money is not as difficult as they originally thought, especially with supportive family, friends and coworkers.

1 National Kidney Foundation, February 15, 2017

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