Megan Shortall and Roy Graham got married in 2009. Roy had high blood pressure for years, but took his medications and was an athlete who took care of his body. All of this changed on their daughter’s first birthday in 2011, when he became ill and was admitted to a hospital. Roy was diagnosed with pancreatitis, and tests showed that his kidneys had stopped working.
“Looking back, once we found out what the symptoms were, it made a lot of things make sense,” Megan said. “We think he had been sick for a while and [we] didn’t know.”
Roy started peritoneal dialysis and was listed on the transplant waiting list. He was stable, but still very sick. Both Roy and Megan found the challenges of managing Roy’s condition while still caring for their family were stressful.
“I was trying not to be a nag and to be supportive, but I was always worried and felt like I was parenting him, along with all the kids,” Megan said. “We were trying to [protect] the kids from how sick he was.” Their different emotional styles led them to cope in different ways. Megan said Roy is very private and introspective, while she is more emotional and outgoing. “[I knew] he was going to be okay, but there’s still a huge loss,” she said. “This is not the life we anticipated when we got married. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health—it just came a little earlier than we expected.”
Megan is a social worker, and she found that her training helped her find a way that she and Roy could each be respectful of the other’s needs. It also helped her see different perspectives, and let people know when she needed support. “It’s not just his struggle, it’s happening to me, too,” she said. “Roy had a great social worker at his dialysis center, but no one [there] ever said to me, ‘How are you doing?’”
After a year and a half on dialysis, Roy received a living donor transplant from Megan’s brother-in-law. Megan and Roy began volunteering for Donate Life Connecticut before the transplant. They believe that the best way to give back to the community is by sharing the gift of life that they’ve received and raising awareness about kidney disease and organ and tissue donation.
Megan is grateful for the support that her family received. She also wants to share with other care partners that it’s important to take care of yourself as well as your loved one. “Ask for help if you need it,” she said. “Try to identify somebody who can be a sounding board on days that are hard. It’s so important for people to know they are not alone. I couldn’t have done what I did without other people behind me, helping me. For every person who’s on dialysis, there’s someone who’s supporting them, and [that person] needs care, too.”
#TogetherWeCan is a continuing series of stories from kidney patients and care partners, sharing their experiences and insights.