I had dinner a few weeks ago with a group of Microsoft MVPs that were in town for an annual conference. I didn’t know any of them, but in the course of conversation, one of them asked another how his wife was doing. His response was that she was doing well; she had received a kidney transplant in September. Of course I wanted to hear more. Here’s the story of Sally as told by her husband, Greg. [The couple’s first names have been changed at their request.]

Sally received her first kidney transplant in 1992, after being on dialysis since 1985. Her first kidney was not a perfect match; she was told that it would likely last for only 5 years if she accepted it, which she did to get off of dialysis. It ended up lasting for about 11-1/2 years. During this time, she was healthy enough to purchase and operate two small restaurants, one in Philadelphia, and later one in Renton, Washington. In late 2000, she decided to sell her restaurant and pursue a lifelong dream of earning a college degree. She earned an Associate degree at Bellevue Community College in Information Technology with a high GPA. Afterwards, she enrolled in the accounting program at Central Washington University. However, in 2003, she suffered chronic organ rejection and returned to dialysis therapy while waiting for another kidney. Despite this setback, she stayed in school and graduated in 2005. In fact, she was one of ten people invited to apply to be the graduation speaker. And out of the ten, she was selected. Her speech is reproduced below.

“Earning a BS degree in Accounting means a lot to me. Not only have I earned a degree at the age of 50, but my success can serve to encourage other students who must battle physical disabilities.

“I may look perfectly healthy standing here in front of you today. In fact, my kidneys totally failed in August, 2003. Just walking to class, or up a flight of stairs, was very difficult. I had to start on hemodialysis. It was my second quarter at Central and I felt desperate. I asked God “Why me?” many times.

“Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to pursue a degree as I intended. There have been many health related obstacles along the way, during these last two years.

“However, I managed it with the help of the wonderful Professors at Central, the staff at the Northwest Kidney Center, and the loving care of my husband, Greg. Thank you to all of you, from the bottom of my heart.

“Many people may wonder why anyone would attempt to earn a college degree at the age of 50. First of all, I didn’t have a chance in South Korea, where I was born and raised.

“With six other brothers and sisters to provide for, my parents had to struggle just to survive. I’ve dreamed of earning a college degree all my life. With hard work and determination, I have finally reached this goal.

“I believe that I am still young and have lots of potential to make a difference in my community. I hope each of you feels the same way about yourselves.

“If anyone hesitates to pursue a college degree because of their age, ethnicity, physical handicap, or other perceived difficulties, let me serve as a role model by encouraging them to pursue their dreams.

“The curriculum at Central has helped teach me to communicate effectively. In the 21st century, communication is one of the most important skills in any field. As a shy person all throughout my life, it amazes me to see myself giving a commencement speech in front of you. The training I have received at Central helps me to feel confident in myself and my area of specialization.

“A BS degree in Accounting is just a beginning for me. My plan is to pass the CPA exam, pursue a Master’s Degree, and further my education with on-the-job experience. One day, I hope to return to school as a teacher, so that I can share my knowledge and life experiences with my future students.

“I wish each of you much luck and happiness in the pursuit of your careers.

“We made it!”

At the end of her speech, she raised her right arm with a fist above her head and the graduating class immediately erupted into a roar of approval and standing applause for her and for themselves.

Part 2 describes the day of the transplant surgery.