FAIRBANKS - By mid-evening every night, 12-year-old Brandie Williams and her mother thoroughly wash their hands and don surgical masks.
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The sterile preparations are a daily bedtime ritual before Brandie is attached, via a surgically implanted abdominal catheter, to an automated peritoneal dialysis machine that cleans her blood while she sleeps. It's been this way ever since she was 10 years old, when she was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a disease that leads to kidney failure.
The dialysis allows Brandie to lead a normal daytime schedule and attend school regularly. But it precludes things such as sleepovers, those all night gab sessions that girls Brandie's age look forward to on the weekends.
But that will soon change. Brandie has been matched with a kidney donor.
"I am so excited that I can go to a sleepover," Brandie said in anticipation of her new life ahead, made possible by the donor, 35-year-old Lalena Leigh, who is a co-worker of Brandie's mother at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
The transplant will take place in Seattle and will require a two-month recovery period during which Brandie will be monitored until she is fully healed.
Medical issues aren't new to the poised young girl nor to her mother, Gina, who is her primary caregiver. Gina proudly states that Brandie has never had an infection during the two years of dialysis treatment administered at home.
"I'm very careful with taking care of her," Gina said.
Brandie's confident attitude about her daily dialysis is gained from her mother.
"I'm glad to do peritoneal rather than hemodialysis," Brandie states. She quite understands the latter would mean being connected to a special machine at the local dialysis center for four hours, three times a week.
Brandie admits to no apprehensions about the upcoming surgery, also a reflection of her mother's positive attitude.
"You can't be all frazzled. You can't fall apart," Gina said.. "If you do, then they see that, and they think if my mom is scared, maybe I should be scared."
Every night after supper the week before Mother's Day, Brandie and her 7-year-old brother, Bryan, joined in practicing a praise dance with a dozen other "anointed angels," ages 5 to 12, for the Mother's Day service at St. John's Baptist Church.
Small of stature, with noticeably less energy than the other children restlessly learning their lines and hand motions one night, Brandie nevertheless was alert and involved. She quietly eased Bryan and the little girl in front of her into position, avoiding their flailing arms as they try to imitate the praise hymn motions to the music.
Afterward, the entire group of "angels" circled together in the main aisle, holding hands for a final prayer.
"Please help us do a good job on the praise dance," a young girl prayed. "Teach us how to be nicer and kinder to each other," she added, ending with "Thank you God for everything you do for us."
The small, tight-knit Williams family enjoys its larger church family at St. John's Baptist. The church is an important part of their lives and has been since before Bryan was born.
Gina is a prayerful woman who firmly believes that everything that has led up to the impending kidney transplant surgery, beginning with finding Lalena as a matching kidney donor who has total family support and works at the hospital, is God's doing.
"I don't believe it is luck," Gina states emphatically. "I don't believe that at all. I talked to God. I had a conversation with God that I wanted Brandie to have a normal life and be a healthy teenager. I asked him to do that with Brandie."
"It is unfortunate people don't give credit where credit is due."
Julie Way, patient coordinator for Two South, organized a chili feed and an earlier bake sale to help the Williamses during their stay in Seattle and make up for lost wages during Brandie's recovery. Way said the staff is eager to see Brandie revitalized with the organ replacement.
"Brandie deserves a chance to have a happy, healthy, normal life," she said.
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