AOL’s Patch.com

Patch

As Senior Local Editor for AOL’s Patch.com, I launched a community website focused on providing daily local news for Port Washington, WI, and Saukville, WI. I worked at AOL from fall 2010 until fall 2013. As editor of the website, my responsibilities included deciding and producing the daily content for the website, managing a team of freelance writers and blog contributors as well as marketing the website to build audience growth.

An extensive selection of my work can be found on this blog. Through website redesigns, much of the original content posted to Patch.com was lost. Below is also a sample of  a feature story I wrote for the website.

‘Don’t Let Me Die’: Port Woman Battles Kidney Failure

After having fought several diseases for the past seven years, Tammy Brumm was also diagnosed with kidney failure. Now, she faces regular dialysis treatments while she works to be added to the list of more than 90,000 nationwide awaiting a transplant.

Tammy Brumm suffers from kidney failure.

For the past seven years, Port Washington resident Tammy Brumm has struggled with a number of diseases, life-threatening and otherwise.

She had 14 hospital stays last year — not including emergency room visits — and now spends three days a week receiving dialysis treatments after “waking up” with end-stage renal disease about one year ago. ESRD is “when the kidneys are no longer able to work at a level needed for day-to-day life,” according to the National Library of Medicine.

Kidney failure, at age 36.

“I was lying in my bed dying, and I didn’t even realize it,” Brumm said. “Instantly, the first thing I thought of were my kids — I have to be here for my kids. I looked at Rob (my husband) and said, ‘Don’t let me die.’”

Tammy has also been suffering from “psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, pustular psoriasis, hypertension, pancreatitus, and diverticulosis for the past few years and most of these conditions are slowly getting worse,” according to the website GiveForward.com, where a fundraiser called Tammy’s Broken Beans has started. “Over the past year she’s also battled several serious infections and blood clots.”

The combination of issues has also led to problems with her eyes, she said.

Tammy, now 37, is working her way through the final steps of being added to the list of 92,832 patients awaiting a kidney transplant; of that list, 1,622 patients are from Wisconsin, according to United Network for Organ Sharing Spokesperson Ann Paschke. UNOS coordinates the national database for organ transplants.

The average waiting period for a transplant is 3-1/2 years, Paschke said. That number was calculated using donors who joined the list in 2006.

Until she receives a transplant, Tammy will continue to receive dialysis treatments several times weekly at a cost of $11,000 to $17,000 a session, Rob said.

“It’s just crazy how much it costs to stay alive,” Tammy said.

Kidney transplants: A waiting list

Most organ transplant matches consider how sick a person is — and therefore how necessary the transplant is for survival. But kidney transplant matches do not take “health urgency” into consideration, Paschke said.

The criteria, therefore, is time spent on the waiting list. The only exception: patients under 35 receive a higher priority.

“There’s preference given for children — they don’t develop correctly if they are waiting for a kidney,” Paschke said.

The process starts with a patient undergoing a health and psychological evaluation, Paschke said. Approved patients are then added to the UNOS computer database. When a donor kidney becomes available, information about that person is added to the database, and the computer works in a process of elimination to find a match.
Tammy said she has a final appointment in a few weeks, and she is hoping to be approved at that time. Complications from her other diseases need to be considered in her approval.

There is no history of the diseases that Tammy suffers from on her mother’s side of the family, Tammy said, but she has no information about her biological father — so there’s really no way to tell if her complications are genetic.

Living donor concept

In 2011, there were 16,815 kidney transplants completed nationwide, with 410 taking place in Wisconsin, Paschke said. About 35 percent of the kidney transplants are ones that actually came from what is referred to as a “living donor.”

“In response to the shortage of organs for transplantation, relatives, loved ones, friends, and even individuals who wish to remain anonymous may serve as living donors for the more than 100,000 people on the national organ transplant waiting list,” a brochure on UNOS.org said. Organ transplants that can be provided by living donors include: kidney, liver, lung, intestine and pancreas.Rob Brumm, Tammy’s husband, is hoping that he will be a match for Tammy’s kidney transplant. As soon as Tammy is approved to the list, Rob will also undergo an evaluation process to become a living donor.”It’s such a sacrifice,” Tammy said, “but I don’t want to pray for someone to die for me to live.”

“The big thing is finding out if he is healthy enough to be a donor,” Paschke said. Even if Rob’s blood type and other factors don’t make him a match, he still has the option to partake in a paired kidney-donation program — meaning if he anonymously donates to a match on the list, Tammy’s name will be given a higher priority for available organs.

Paschke said she also strongly encourages everyone to sign up for the Wisconsin Donor Registry, because every individual added can save a lot of lives.

“It’s huge,” she said.

Taking its toll

While Tammy considers herself lucky this year — she hasn’t been hospitalized since December — her health complications have had an impact on other aspects of her life.

Her children, boys ages 17 and 14, are often worried about her — and have more than once called 911 because Tammy fainted and Rob was away. The boys have told her they want to be her kidney donor, and they look forward to the transplant being completed so they don’t have to “worry about mom” anymore, Tammy said.

That’s the hardest part, she said, is knowing that her kids are scared.

“It’s really, really hard when your child asks you if you’re going to die. … It got to a point where I stopped praying and started begging, ‘God, don’t let me die.’”

The regular dialysis treatments cause Tammy to feel as if she’s been “hit by a truck,” and she battles extreme thirst because of all her medications, while having to limit her fluid intake because of health-related diet restrictions.

Plus, when Tammy got sick, she had to stop working.

“Losing her income has been a hard hit,” Rob said.

Though Tammy’s medical care is covered by insurance, there are still plenty of out-of-pocket costs, and Tammy said the financial burden caused by those expenses leave her feeling guilty.

The couple nearly lost their home because of medical bills, she said. At one point, Tammy said she would skip medications every other day in an attempt to save a little bit on the cost of co-pays for all of her meds. When Rob found out, she stopped.

“It’s hard not to feel guilty about (the money),” she said.

Despite all their tribulations, Tammy said she “feels lucky” that the tragedy has sparked optimism among the pair, helping to build a stronger relationship.

“From the instant that the doctor came in and it totally changed our lives … it made us stronger,” she said, of her relationship with her husband. “I’ve never felt alone.”

The fundraiser set up to help with their bills has raised $5,886 towards a goal of $15,000. Donate by visiting GiveForward.com/TammysBrokenBeans.