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W.O. Parmer teacher receives new kidney, lease on life

It’s been a long journey for Krystal Thagard—a journey filled with joyous moments and sorrowful ones, of waiting and hoping and praying. 

And this woman who describes herself as “a walking miracle” will tell you that being alive is a gift no one should take for granted.

Earlier this month, Thagard received a new kidney and a new lease on life. The W.O. Parmer Elementary teacher, now recovering from transplant surgery in Birmingham, shared her story with us.

A mother’s gift

“I was five when I was diagnosed with nephritis (an inflammation of the kidneys) and nephrotic syndrome (a kidney disorder that causes your body to excrete too much protein in your urine) . . . after a short time on manual dialysis, my sweet mama gave me a kidney on June 8, 1983. For 33 years, I was able to live life like a normal person,” Thagard said. “I was such a blessed child, but I didn’t fully realize just how blessed back then.”

Then came Halloween 2015.

“I went into kidney failure after trying to maintain slow function for the past year. I had food poisoning, and it killed any function I might have had in Mama’s kidney.”

With poison surging through her body, Thagard was rushed to Baptist Hospital East in Montgomery for emergency treatment. The decision was made to put her on dialysis.  It was a decision with which Thagard found herself struggling.

“I had such a difficult time accepting what had happened to me, how I had almost died. It was devastating,” Thagard recalled. “I did not want to do dialysis, but I knew if I didn’t, I would die.”

Accepting a ‘new normal’

After prayer and heartfelt talks with her family, Thagard had a catheter for dialysis inserted on November 2, 2015. She went home from the hospital, but returned for daily treatment at the dialysis center until Christmas week.

Thagard’s “new normal” was a family affair, she says.

“My husband Jimmy and my mama went to a two-week class to learn how to prepare for and maintain my dialysis treatment at home starting in January 2016.”

Depressed and feeling despair over the sudden, drastic change in her life, Thagard grieved for what she seemingly had lost.

“And then one day, I woke up—and I decided the Lord had let me live for a reason. Maybe it was to show me there are other ways to live and still be able to help others. To show me I could be an advocate for Him and also for those who are battling a disease like mine,” Thagard explained.

Motivated to fight on

Her medical leave over, Thagard returned to work in February 2016.

With the support of family, friends, her school and church families and prayer, Thagard says she had plenty of motivation to keep going.

She considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“Even though I was tied to a machine nightly that kept me alive, I was a blessed girl to be able to get up each morning and go to the job I so dearly loved. I could live normally during the day, and hook myself up to my machine each night for 10 hours,” Thagard said.

The dialysis threw a monkey wrench into any evening plans, and traveling was out of the question unless she took her equipment with her. She had to give up one of her favorite activities, swimming.

Even so, Thagard said she was able to keep on keeping on, thanks to her faith and the overwhelming community support.

“I knew I was going to find a kidney when it was sent to me by God. This whole process has taught me to give all to Him, not to worry, just lean on Him, for He does have a plan for each one of us. It would happen in God’s time.”

And so she and her family waited for The Call.

An unexpected gift

On Sunday, July 16, 2017—Jimmy and Krystal Thagard’s wedding anniversary—that long-awaited call finally came.

“We were on our way to an anniversary dinner when they called us from University Hospital in Birmingham. I was—shocked, happy, nervous, excited and scared–all at once!,” Thagard exclaimed.

“You can’t believe the emotions that overwhelm you. I was crying while trying to tell Jimmy what she said. Honestly, you can never really prepare for a call like that. It was amazing to hear her say, ‘We have a kidney—how quickly can you get here?’”

The couple immediately headed back home to alert their family members, pack a bag and journey to Birmingham for the transplant. “I think I cried and prayed the whole way there. Jimmy looked at me and said, ‘This is it. This is your kidney.’ It was the best day ever, and the best anniversary gift I could ever hope to receive,” Thagard recalled.

Once they arrived and checked in at UAB hospital that night, several last-minute tests were done up until 3 a.m. Monday morning.

“At 7 a.m., my surgeon and doctor came in to let me know that after all the testing and cross matching done on the donor kidney, it was a perfect match–and we would be going to surgery by 7:30!”

Thagard found herself in tears again as she thought of the two years of hopes and prayers on her behalf, some offered by people who had never even met her, who only knew her by name. “My whole community had prayed for me . . . and the day was finally here.”

On July 17, 2017, Thagard got her miracle—the gift of a new kidney.

She was able to leave the hospital on July 23, moving into the UAB townhouse for an estimated three-four weeks as she recovers from the surgery.

Now almost two weeks since the transplant, Thagard says she feels “amazing.”

“I have had such an outpouring of letters, calls, prayers, and support from everyone. My friends and family have come to Birmingham to visit, to stay with me while I am recovering, to cheer me on, and pray with me for healing to continue. I can’t thank everyone enough for their wonderful support through all of this,” Thagard said.

She is slated to return home mid-August, where she will recover for an additional three to four months.

It will be hard going at first without her new students and the WOP school family, but Thagard knows full recovery is of foremost importance.

‘A second chance’

She is hoping to return to school the second semester—and she is looking forward to making up for lost time.

“I cannot tell you what it feels like to be so blessed and have a second chance at life. I am going to recover, concentrate on going back to work when it is time, and share my life with my husband, my family, and friends,” Thagard said.

“I love to travel, read, and swim. For the past two years I have not been able to go swimming, so when I get home and am well enough, the first place for me to visit is going to be my pool.”

Thagard says she has a deep gratitude for all who have supported her through the storms—especially one individual, her husband, Jimmy.

“He has never left my side through it all, helping with my machine nightly, praying and crying with me. He loved me through it all,” Thagard says. “Outside of my parents, he is my biggest motivator and just an amazing person I love so much. Without him by my side, I would not be as well as I am today.”

She is happy to share her story in hopes it will make a positive impact on others.

“Keep your faith, have hope and don’t ever give up on your life, no matter how sick you may get. Sure, I have had bad days, good days, normal days—we all do,” Thagard said.

“The important thing is to lean on God and pray for strength and guidance on your journey.  He is the reason I am here to tell my story today. He may not provide for you as quickly as you want, but He will provide for you in His time. So live everyday as if it were your last, love everyone—and share your stories to inspire others.”