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Conyers man undergoes kidney transplant after six years on dialysis

Conyers resident Lester Wiggins, shown here with his wife Rose, underwent a kidney transplant in November after being on dialysis since 2006.

Conyers resident Lester Wiggins, shown here with his wife Rose, underwent a kidney transplant in November after being on dialysis since 2006.

Christmas came early for Conyers resident Lester Wiggins. The 66-year-old retiree recently came home from Emory University Hospital with a new kidney after more than two years on the transplant waiting list.

"This Christmas we (celebrated) at home with the family and I (spent) time with my grandson," Wiggins said. "I'm still in recovery and not able to do some of the things I (would like to have done) for Christmas, but after the recovery period is over, we'll get to travel.

The father of two grown sons and the grandfather of 8-year-old Chauncey said he is looking forward to the day when he can play baseball with his young grandson.

It has been an "ordeal," Wiggins said of his operation, but well worth it.

Born in Tennessee, Wiggins has lived in Georgia for 30 years, living in DeKalb County for 18 years before moving to Conyers. He was working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in its food stamp program when in 2001, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and his right kidney was removed.

"After that, there was just a decline in my kidney function," he said.

In 2006, Wiggins was placed on dialysis and had to do dialysis for eight hours each evening at home. He continued to work during that time and applied for a kidney transplant.

However, it was discovered he also had prostate cancer and that made him ineligible to be on the list. He said a person has to be cancer-free to be on the transplant list and there was a waiting period of two years after that. He continued doing he dialysis at home.

After the two years were up, he again applied to be on the transplant list. Soon after that, his dialysis stopped working and in 2010 he had to go on hemodialysis, which meant he had to go into a dialysis center three times a week for at least four hours.

He was a regular at the Newton County Dialysis Center, where he spent hours visiting with fellow dialysis patients, reading and watching television. He also did paperwork to help his wife with her business, Avon and Ambrosia Expressions Gift Shop in the Salem Road Shopping Center.

Wiggins retired in 2008 after 30 years of service with the U.S. Agriculture Department.

"The Newton Dialysis staff was wonderful," Wiggins said. "They were most encouraging and helpful and they do everything possible to make you comfortable while you're there."

But being there took up a lot of his time and Wiggins was looking forward to the day he would get the call that a kidney had been found and his life could resume some normalcy.

That call came in November. He was at home when the transplant team called him early one morning to say a kidney was available. According to procedure, the patient is told he has to make the decision whether to accept the kidney or wait for another one.

The transplant team provides a little information on the donor, such as the general age range, status of the donor's health and a few details, but not the name of the person. The transplant team gives the patient a certain amount of time to decide, then calls back for an answer.

"When you get a call like that early in the morning, there's a lot of anxiety rushing through your mind," Wiggins said. "Even though you've been waiting for a kidney, you say, 'Is this something I want to do?' You want to process the information they give you and the circumstances. After that, you make a decision.

"I had been waiting for one for a very long time. I said, 'I don't think I want to turn one down.' I mulled it over for a couple of hours. They call you back and ask if you accept and they tell you to come on in."

Wiggins checked into Emory University Hospital at noon Nov. 14. Doctors did blood tests and other tests and then at 8 that evening, they told Wiggins they would be transplanting the kidney into him at 7 the next morning.

"At that point, I had made a decision I was going to do it," he said. "I was very excited and said, 'Let's get this done.' I was just praying and hoping that nothing would go wrong and that my body would not reject it. My hopes were that everything would go fine. I prayed that it would. I was ready to go the next morning."

The operation took about four hours and when Wiggins woke up in recovery, doctors told him they were amazed at how he was doing.

"They informed me that I had a very good kidney because it started working immediately," he said. "That doesn't always happen. Sometimes when they transfer a kidney, that kidney goes to sleep and you might have to be on dialysis a day or two before that kidney wakes up. I was thrilled. All of the doctors were just totally amazed it was working right away."

Wiggins said he is feeling better each day and is still recovering from surgery. He praises the transplant team and the nurses and doctors at Emory, saying they made a point to help him understand what was going on during each step of the process.

He said he is also grateful for the prayers from his pastor Rev. Eric Lee and fellow church members at Springfield Baptist Church.

Wiggins' family is excited to have him back home and feeling stronger each day. His wife of 44 years, Rose, and their sons and daughters-in-law, Anthony and Cori Wiggins and Michael and Lawaynta Wiggins, along with their son Chauncey were together this Christmas to celebrate.

"It's been one of the greatest Christmas presents I've ever had," Wiggins said of his new kidney.

As his health improves, Wiggins is looking forward to many things in addition to playing ball with his grandson. He especially wants to work in his yard.

"One of the things I was so disappointed with when I went on dialysis was I was not able to work in my yard and cut my own grass," he said. "That was something I was not able to do because I didn't have the strength. I feel as if I could get out there and do it now."

Wiggins said it is important to him to encourage others who are on dialysis to apply to be on the transplant list. He said it is a thorough process and a patient must go through an array of evaluations and tests, but he said it is worth it.

"With my transplant, I feel like my life will be a lot closer to what it was before I was diagnosed with kidney problems," he said.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Loganville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.