It’s been almost ten years since Lecta “Sue” Hammer’s youngest child donated a kidney to save her life. Now she is celebrating her 86th birthday looking in the rearview mirror at a life before transplant.
By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Her fingernails are painted a bright burgundy and are long and strong. It is one of the things Melody Biddle remembers about her mother before transplant.
“Her nails were brittle and broken,” said the youngest child of Lecta “Sue” Hammer. Like her nails, Hammer’s body was weak and fragile.
Fourteen years before her transplant, Hammer was diagnosed with autoimmune disease. At one point doctors were searching for cancer – she had a CT scan, an MRI, bone marrow tests – and nothing showed signs of cancer. Next she went to an allergy doctor. More tests followed and she was diagnosed with Lupus.
“My kidneys were diseased and I was put on prednisone for a year. I got up to 190 pounds,” said Hammer. Her weight put her at risk for a kidney transplant but she was determined to regain her health.
“I was 75 and my doctor at the time thought I was too old for a kidney transplant, but I said I wanted a kidney,” said Hammer. “After that I went into the office the next week and my doctor said he’d studied the history of my health and he thought I was able to have a transplant.”
Originally from Tompkinsville, Ky.- a community of about 2,400 people, Hammer married her next-door neighbor Floyd and moved to Indiana in 1952. She is the last sibling of three. When her husband died nine years ago they had been married 59 years.
Hammer had her first child on her 19th birthday – October 28, a girl – Phyllis (Wilson). Her second child, also a girl – Teresa (Anderson), was born on Labor Day and a son; Tony Hammer was born on New Year’s Eve. Then the Saturday before Father’s Day, June 20, 1969 her youngest child, Melody (Biddle) was born.
“As the youngest I remember we’d get together with our neighbor across the street who babysat for her granddaughter. We’d go to garage sales, the playground, school clothes shopping and then come home and have a little fashion show,” said Biddle. When Biddle was in high school at Lawrence North her mom worked in the cafeteria. Later in life the two enjoyed hitting after-Christmas sales. When Biddle met her future husband, Tim her mom was the one who created an unsuspecting memory for her future son-in-law. Biddle took him along to the airport to pick up her mom from a trip to Florida. A flight mix up caused them to make two trips and had Hammer waiting for a bit after missing a connecting flight.
“By the time we got her she said to Tim, ‘I’ve been waiting all day to meet you,” Biddle recalls. When her son, Levi, was born 20 years ago Biddle remembers her mother was in Kentucky caring for an ill parent. It was the first grandchild to join the family in 15 years. Biddle grew up with nieces and nephews who were just seven-10 years younger.
“I was excited to have a new grandchild but I didn’t think she’d go on time,” said Hammer. Levi is one of five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. For years, Hammer and her husband enjoyed taking him and Biddle on camping trips to Raccoon Lake, McCormick’s Creek and Lieber State Park.
Hammer’s illness came at a time her husband was in the advanced stages of dementia.
“At my worst I couldn’t do my housework, I couldn’t’ care for my husband, and I had to call my kids to take care of him so I could rest,” said Hammer. Her daughter remembered years earlier touring a dialysis clinic as part of a United Way work campaign. “I thought it would be a horrible way to put your life on hold for. I remembered that – it was always in the back of my mind,” said Biddle. So when her mom’s kidneys began to fail, Biddle – who is the same blood type – was tested as a match.
“A lot of other people asked me at the time, ‘what if your kidney fails’ or ‘what if something happens to Levi.’ I couldn’t withhold what I knew I could do for what I might have to do,” said Biddle. “I found a real purpose in being able to give her a kidney. I decided if God is going to allow me to do this for my mom, he’s going to take care of my son.”
As the mother and daughter prepared for transplant, they spent hours walking the halls of Methodist Hospital and would sometimes head out for lunch after their appointments. Biddle learned much about being a living donor from her transplant coordinator Kelly Coffey.
On Feb. 23, 2010, Biddle gave her mother the gift of life.
“This was such a profound thing in my life that I didn’t know how to go forward,” said Biddle. She took a month off work and didn’t talk about it publicly until she began to see improvements in her mother.
“Gradually when I began to see her doing every day things – like the laundry – I knew she was getting better and I began to open up and tell others about being a living donor,” said Biddle. Hammer still sees her nephrologist at IU Health Dr. Ronald Bloom and says she feels better than ever. She’s taken trips to Florida and Canada and continues to enjoy her life as a mother and grandmother.
“She’s made my life worth living,” said Hammer. On Sunday mornings Biddle and her husband pick up her mom to attend services at First Church of Christ in Fishers and Biddle helps her mom by picking up groceries, medications and taking her to doctor appointments. And this month, the family will celebrate Hammer’s 86th birthday.
“Once she made up her mind she wanted to donate her kidney I only thought how wonderful it was that I was going to have a longer life and a better life,” said Hammer. “It’ just hard to put into words how I feel that she would do that for her mother.”