Part One: Forged in Fire

If you’ve read my blog post about my sister, then you already know a bit about what she’s been through.

If you haven’t, let me recap: My sister has been through hell.

1995

When we were little, Shannon had it rough. Our step-father, Ralph, believed that she was faking illnesses to get out of learning responsibilities. Ralph would punish her for issues she couldn’t control because he believed she was faking it for attention.

But then Shannon ended up in a hypoglycemic coma – four times. By the age of 8, my sister was on life-sustaining medications. Her thyroids weren’t working right, and she only had one kidney. The other “kidney” was a ball of scar tissue which did not function. Her only functioning kidney only worked at about 65% at its best. On top of this, Shannon was never hungry, and very skinny.

The struggle was worsened by the fact that Ralph was abusive, and a prescription drug addict. He would use blind sticks to hit us, or a belt with a heavy buckle, or even a boat oar he kept under the bed. Because of my sister’s kidney issues, she couldn’t always control her bladder. Ralph thought she did it on purpose, and put her tiny 8 year old head under scalding hot water before forcing her to do the laundry, keeping her from school that day.

I’m certain that if our mother had been home, and known about this, she would not have let it happen, but she was the only income for the house and left two hours before we even woke up for school. I was the little sister, too afraid to step up or do something about it.

My sister – my tiny, sick, and abused sister – was not afraid.

Y’all, my sister is Buffy

She reported Ralph to the school counselor, and showed them her welts from the blind sticks. She stood up not only for herself, but for me, the little sister who would try to take the blame for things that weren’t my fault so she wouldn’t get punished. My sister is the reason my Mother learned the truth, the reason my mother took her health seriously and got Shannon the care she needed to get stable again. And although it took some time to do something about it, in 1999 my Mother finally kicked Ralph out. We finally had a life of just us girls and no abusive drug addicts or drunks ruining our Thanksgiving days.

1998

The next major illness happened when Shannon was eleven. She had been in severe pain for days, throwing up until there was nothing left in her body. At that point, she started to throw up bile. Mom got worried because Shannon was unable to keep anything down. We went to the emergency room and learned that Shannon had gall stones trapped in her bile duct, and needed immediate surgery. They removed the gall stones and the gall bladder, and made her walk the very next day. From then on, Shannon could no longer drink whole milk or have certain types of food. To make it easier, mom moved the entire household over to the same diet. We were there for Christmas , when a hospital Santa came by to see Shannon, and we had all our gifts from home brought in at the same time to open.

2003

My mother fell in love with a man who later moved us to Florida – if you read my main storyline you will know my tale from the move, but our move to Florida was both wonderful and terrible for my sister.

Shannon used to be the popular girl in Alabama. Some bad things happened and led to the entire high school being completely rude to her. Moving to Florida gave her a fresh start, but it also required her to leave behind the friends she had kept since elementary school who refused to turn on her when things got bad. She was as angry as I was about it.

Our first year in Florida, Shannon was in 10th grade. The first year went by okay, but the Summer that followed is when life took a turn.

Over the Summer, Shannon started showing signs of a sinus infection. We tried to treat it with what we knew worked in the past, but it only got worse. Soon, the symptoms started to change and worsen, so I took out the trusty Encyclopedia set my mother had at the time.

Hours later, I came to my mother and showed her Tonsillitis. All of the symptoms matched Shannon’s condition. Finally, Mom took her to the hospital.

At 15 years old, Shannon was enduring a Thyroid Storm caused by Grave’s Disease. She was required to undergo radioactive iodine therapy to deactivate the thyroids to keep her alive, and went onto Synthroid for the rest of her life. They sent her home.

But the hospital made a mistake.

On the second day of school – Shannon being in 11th grade, me in 9th – we got off the bus and started walking home. I noticed that Shannon was limping, and her left leg was purple.

Despite her arguments, I went to a random neighbor on our street with a truck, and asked if he could help me get my sister home. He looked at her leg and his eyes got wide. He lowered his tailgate, I helped Shannon get onto the truck, and I sat with her until we reached the house – I let him know that we were home, and he stopped for us to get off the truck.

The moment we got inside, I got every pillow from around the house and stuffed it under her leg. Until Mom got home, I waited on her hand and foot.

Mom got home and we told her about the issue, but she thought it was just a muscle cramp, so Shannon got into the shower to show Mom the swelling as it was at the bus stop.

Mom’s eyes got HUGE – they went straight to the hospital. Again.

The Endoscopy used to check her for esophageal ulcers caused a DVT in the main artery of the left leg. Shannon was put into the ICU for two weeks, and was not allowed to move her leg. One nurse in particular didn’t care, and put Shannon on a weighing scale despite her pain and tears, and treated her horribly the entire time. I wanted to slap her in the face, and at that age, I would likely have done it had I been in the room at the time.

After this incident, I stayed in the hospital room and stayed awake all night, waking Shannon up if she tried to move her leg, flipping the pillow that elevated it, helping with her bed pan as best I could. I brought her her favorite throw blanket, sudoku, word searches, coloring books, and anything else I thought would help her, and when the nurse finally came back I got scolded by my mother for cursing her out.

For two weeks, Shannon could not use her left leg muscle at all. The cause was determined to be two blood clotting disorders we did not know we had. We expected the hospital to be reasonable and give Shannon a wheelchair, but they only gave her a pair of crutches. My mother paid out of pocket to get Shannon a wheelchair.

That’s when Shannon decided that enough was enough. She was done being sick, frail, and weak.

Shannon told me to stand in front of her wheelchair in the hallway. I braced my knees, held out my arms. She grabbed my forearms like parallel bars, stood up, and pushed me backwards down the hallway like a walker.

At first, it was only a few steps. Then, she started to go further. Her goal was to walk to the end of the hall with assistance, and then again without assistance. She then tried to use the bathroom by herself. She started doing more and more independently until eventually she didn’t need me anymore.

Although she was getting better, Shannon was not ready to go back to school just yet, so the school sent a teacher to the house every week. Shannon was doing really well, but hated being cooped up.

Her treatments for the DVT in her leg eventually led to a staph infection. This hospital was completely incompetent at the time – I’m glad it has since been overhauled. Shannon had to go to the hospital every two weeks to get a shot to treat the staph infection. The entire year seemed like it was spent in and out of the hospital.

2006

Shannon managed to graduate high school a year early, with college credits. She had moved out and was planning to get a job at Winn Dixie, so I told Stacy, my manager, about it in an effort to get her hired. I then asked for a transfer to a different store to prevent a conflict of interest. My transfer put me closer to my mom’s, and my sister was brought in and hired to take my vacancy. We thought everything was fine…

Until we learned that all of the stress on her body in the last year had caused her only kidney to start failing. End-stage renal disease. She just can’t catch a break.

Shannon was forced to quit her job, and go on dialysis. Her kidney function dropped to 15%. She ate baking soda mixed in applesauce once a day and brought her kidney function up to 35%, but it wasn’t enough. She needed a kidney transplant. I joined The Army in an effort to get the money she needed for the transplant, but things always seemed to get in the way.

Two Transplant Evaluations turned her down because of her blood clot. I paid $700 from my Army pay to send my sister back to Birmingham for the third evaluation, along with whatever amount of money I was sneaking into my mom’s purse when she wasn’t looking, and the things I chose to buy for them along the way. We stayed at The Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham and I recall playing their piano and doing “house chores” to repay their kindness. When it was done, we went back home, and from then on I have donated to every Ronald McDonald House bucket I came across.

Some time later, we had gotten a notice that her blood clot had not appeared in their scans, and she was cleared of it just long enough to get accepted for the transplant list. We were in complete shock. Now all we needed was a donor.

I immediately contacted my NCO at the 144th Transportation Company, and they had the army pay for me to be tested. Despite the different blood type, I was still a match – according to the information I was given, we had a 25% chance of being a 6-antigen match for a transplant, especially since we both shared a mother AND a father.

However, before I could tell my sister I was a match – or my NCO, who told me I would have to be discharged to donate – her then-fiancé had already tested as a match and volunteered to donate. I kept my mouth shut for a while and let them have their moment. She deserved some happiness after everything she’d been through.

‘If this kidney didn’t work out’ I thought to myself, ‘she still has me’

Despite the insurance issue, the transplant was a success, and Shannon finally had a chance to get back to a normal life.

The only problem was, her then-fiancé began to stalk and threaten her whenever she left the house. He said he would follow her everywhere and, if she spoke to a male, he would get out and shoot them both. He even hit her a few times – but she punched him back, square in the mouth.

Shannon became our Phoenix, rising from the ashes of the fire that forged her strength of will.

I remember helping her leave him, and she eventually met someone new who she later married. They had a child in 2014, bought a house, and Shannon had even completed her Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and Management.

…but the story doesn’t stop here…

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