Putting up the good fight
Rockdale resident has been battling end stage renal disease for the past 19 years, which includes three weekly dialysis treatments.
She and husband of 10 years Ricky are both Rockdale High School graduates and they share daughters Terry, 25 and Emily, 21. There are two granddaughters as well, Hannah, age 7, and 16-month-old Jayla.
In 1988, while pregnant with Emily, Linda was going to her regular obstetrician appointments when her labs came back that she had too much protein in her urine.
“My OB sent me to a nephralogist as a precaution,” Matthews said. In January 1989, after giving birth, she had a kidney biopsy that discovered that 10- percent of her kidneys were non-functioning.
“They told me that I would not have to go on dialysis for at least 10 years,” she said. That diagnosis turned out to be wrong. In two years time, Matthews was on dialysis and could get no answers why what was finally diagnosed as renal disease, had progressed so rapidly.
When she was first diagnosed nearly 20 years ago, Matthews said she was scared and in denial.
“It was terrifying. I kept asking ‘why me?’ I’d even miss treatments because I’d tell myself I wasn’t sick so I didn’t need to go,” she said.
Once Matthews realized that if she wanted to live she had to do this, things got better for her.
“I decided I need to do this in order to raise and be around my kids,” she said.
Neither of Matthews’ kidneys are functioning, but she said doctors found no reason to remove them since there are no cancerous or other infections in the organs.
For the last 19 years Matthews has been on dialysis, as her body retains fluid and she has to watch what she eats and can intake no more than four cups of fluids a day; that includes counting the liquid in things like Jell-O and soup.
In renal dialysis, the patient must be connected to a machine that mechanically filters the blood. Dialysis does not treat renal failure, as there is no known cure, but instead keeps a person alive by performing critical functions of the kidneys.
Logging the miles
Matthews and her husband make the drive to Temple three times a week (every Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to Scott & White for her dialysis treatments. That adds up to over 270,000 miles during her battle of the disease.
She said that in her first round of dialysis she would drive herself, but as they increased her time, she found she just could not go by herself anymore and decided to carpool with others from Rockdale who were receiving dialysis at Scott & White.
“I carpooled with J.D. (Joe) Morrison for 15 years,” Matthews said. They are the only two still living out of their original group of six patients who took treatments on the same shift.
Dialysis patients become like family, both those taking the treatments and family members who are in the waiting room with each other hours at a time.
Matthews has become an advocate, helping those new to dialysis treatment.
“I’ve talked with a lot of people and the main thing I tell them is that you just can’t worry about it all the time,” she said.
After 15 years, Matthews was asked if she’d be interested in learning to do treatments at home. Ricky and Linda jumped at the chance to not have to drive the 92-mile round trip three times a week.
After eight weeks of training and memorizing a two-inch thick manual, Linda and Ricky began her dialysis treatments at their home.
“I felt so much better, like my old self,” she said of doing home treatments. She didn’t have to watch her diet and had more energy. She attributed that to having the treatment every day rather than every other day.
“It was cleaning out everything every day,” she said. The daily treatments were just two and a half hours six days a week, rather than the four hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“Home treatments were just like getting up and getting a shower or brushing your teeth. I knew when I got home in the evenings that I’d have to lay in the bed for two and a half hours.”
In August 2009, Matthews sustained a blood infection and was on IV antibiotics, causing her to receive dialysis through a permanent port in her chest.
The home treatment machine malfunctioned when doing dialysis in the port and so began trips back and forth to Temple three times a week.
After four weeks she tried the home treatments again and then received another infection in a graph from a fistula she has in her left arm. Fistula is an artificial vein, sometimes made of bovine tubing, that connects Matthews’ vein and artery in her arm, making treatments a little less strenuous on her blood vessels.
After the upcoming veinogram, Matthews hopes that the possibility of home treatments might present itself again if all goes well.
Since she and Ricky have to travel so much to her treatments, neither are able to work full-time, or at all in some cases. That makes things very difficult for a couple who is used to giving back to others.
Since her first infection last August, Matthews has undergone 15 surgeries and will have to have a veinogram procedure done in the very near future. She had her spleen removed in December. Matthews has even had type II diabetes due to medicine she has been on.
Family members and friends want to help the Matthews’ get back on their feet by holding a fund-raiser in their honor on Sunday at the KC Hall in Rockdale.
“We don’t want to live depending on everyone else paying our bills,” Matthews said of family members helping them out when they could. “We just want to get back to our old selves.”
Doors will open at 10 a.m. for viewing of the live and silent auction items on Sunday. Barbecue plates will go on sale at 11 a.m. and cost $8 each.
Live music throughout the day will feature local bands Bluesadillo, Crash Landing and The Shades.
Face painting will be available for the kids and massage therapy with Michelle Shuffield will be available for adults.