ALTON, Ill. -- Some say Coena Royal's first name means "angel" in the Hawaiian territories.
For her son, Eric, the single mom has literally been "an angel" in his mind through all the years. In 2012, Coena, 43, of Alton, was in dire straits, needing a pancreas and kidney transplant. If she hadn't received the transplant on May 2, 2012, she likely would not have survived.
She now calls May 2 her birthday and she is enormously thankful for beating the odds and staying alive.
"As I look back over my life, I have always had health issues and in most cases, my life was in jeopardy. As a child, going outside was a painful event. I had to wear long sleeves and pants all the time.
"The sun burned my skin, causing a thick, raised rash. My mother would tell me I was allergic to the sun. I frequently had high fevers and pneumonia. However, I did not understand the journey I was going to embark on."
When Coena was a teenager, she was diagnosed with uncontrollable insulin-dependent diabetes. Immediately upon diagnosis her pancreas stopped functioning. On April 14, 1999, she was diagnosed with peri-orbital cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the soft tissues of the eyes that can spread into the eye socket and to other parts of the brain and face.
One of the doctors at the time said her body had shut down and the doctor couldn't understand how she was still living.
She said, "Coena, if you had not allowed me to hospitalize you yesterday, today you would have been in a coma, and on Friday, your parents would be making a decision whether or not to take you off life support."
Coena was running a hemoglobin A1C of 21, considered to be dangerously high.
"The doctor said at the time I never believed in miracles and blessings; I do now because someone or something is keeping you on this earth."
In 2003, she experienced swelling in the arms and in 2004 the same sensation occurred. She was diagnosed with Job syndrome, which has no cure. The immune deficiency disease leaves eczema-like marks on the body that turn into abscesses and crawling sensations under the skin.
She continued to be sick from 2005 to mid-2009. The swelling in her legs became worse. On Nov. 6, 2009, she could not breathe or function. Her nephrologist came to see her and asked what her plan was. She responded to rest, and if she didn't get better to go to the emergency room.
"If you lay down, you were not going to wake up," he said. "You had no oxygen going to brain. Your kidneys are completely shut down. I am scheduling dialysis for you today, and if that doesn't work you will have only three weeks to live."
On June 17, 2010, after a dialysis treatment, she suffered a mini-stroke. She was placed on a kidney transplant list and she was asked to think about a pancreas implant at the same time.
She did dialysis for three years, but it was not going well. On April 30, 2012, her doctor gave her a report about her kidneys and it didn't sound good.
"I texted my mother and told her I needed her up here with me right now," she said. "I did not want to wait to the end of May for the transplants."
On May 2, 2012, she received a call before she left for work and the person told her they had a potential pancreas and kidney for her.
"At 4:15 p.m. my organs arrived," she said. "My transplant team said the donor was a perfect match."
The last person Coena saw before she had the transplant was her son Eric, to whom she has devoted her whole life. He has been the motivator for her to battle through all the physical ailments.
"My son is my biggest supporter, making sure I stay well," Coena said.
Coena had ups and downs with the follow-through of her transplants, but today she is happy and as healthy as possible.
"I have had many storms in my life, and yet I have come through," she said. "Throughout this ordeal I managed to go to work each day as a counselor at Pere Marquette Illinois Youth Center. I have worked there for 20 years."
Coena said she appreciates the help of her father, Lorenza Royal Sr., and mother, Delores. God above has been looking out for her throughout her life, she said.
"I look at my life as the `Footprints in the Sand' poem," she said. "I know I didn't get through this without God carrying me when things got hard. He has always been there for me. I definitely give all thanks to God for the storms I have gone through because that gave me strength to get through the other storms.
Source: The (Alton) Telegraph, http://bit.ly/110Y6Mu