Transplant patient survives COVID, asks public to wear masks

November 23, 2020
collage of Lisa White and her adult son and her sister
At left, Lisa White and her son QuaTravious and on the right, her sister Roshanda Anderson. Photos provided

Standing before her mother’s grave, thinking about her sister in a COVID-19 intensive care unit 170 miles from home and how she feared the doctors and nurses were keeping the worst from her, Roshanda Anderson made a promise to God. She knew how much her sister, Lisa White, had already sacrificed through the years to try to stay healthy after a lupus diagnosis and a kidney transplant. Anderson decided she needed to sacrifice something she enjoyed. 

“I enjoyed smoking. I just knew it wasn’t good for my health. So I said, ‘Lord, I promise if you bring my sister back and keep her here with us, I will stop smoking,’” Anderson said. “So I gave it up July 29 and never looked back.”

White did return to her family, but it was touch and go for a while. She was on a ventilator at MUSC Health in Charleston for more than a week and in the hospital for close to a month.

Now, she’s grateful to be home in Ninety Six, South Carolina, and proud of her sister, who she’s nagged for years to quit smoking, especially after their mom died of throat cancer.

“I'm grateful both ways, for her to do it for me and for herself, because she needed to,” she said.

Born 11 months and three weeks apart, the sisters had their own social circles growing up but grew closer as they entered their teens and 20s and then began having children of their own.

“We hung together every day, argued at least once a day, but we were still together. We’ve always had a pretty close relationship,” White said.

At 23, White was diagnosed with lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that most commonly develops in women of childbearing age and is more often found in women of color. The disease can cause muscle and joint pain, fatigue, anemia, rashes, blood clots, eye disease and kidney problems.

Eventually, White’s kidney problems meant that she would have to undergo dialysis for four years, relying on a machine to remove waste products, like toxins or excess water, from her blood, as her kidneys were no longer able to perform these functions naturally. That last year, she was also put on a kidney transplant list at three hospitals in the hope that a kidney would come through.

This spring, a kidney nearly did come through. She got the call to head to a hospital in North Carolina after a deceased-donor kidney became available. Once there, though, further tests revealed the kidney couldn’t be used.

White wasn’t disappointed. In fact, she was relieved. Her soul wasn’t calm, she said – she could feel there was something not quite right. So she went home, and a month later, in May, she got a call from MUSC Health that there was a match for her from a living donor.

“When I came to Charleston to get my kidney, I was calm. My soul was calm. I just knew everything was going to be all right. I felt like that was the kidney that God had ordered; that it was meant for me,” she said.

group selfie of three women 
Lisa White, right, with her daughters Chevney and Jaumira.

Her kids, on the other hand – they were terrified, she said. At that point, MUSC Health had relaxed its visitor ban somewhat, so one support person was allowed in the hospital with each patient. White said she was texting with them, even as she was prepping for surgery, letting them know she would be OK.

And she was OK. The surgery went well, and White was able to return home and start working at her home health job again.

But the pandemic was ramping up in South Carolina, and White was particularly vulnerable. The drugs she must take to prevent her body from rejecting the kidney also mean she is immunocompromised. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who are immunocompromised because of organ transplant are at increased risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

White isn't sure where she contracted COVID-19. She just knows that when she started feeling sick, her doctor advised her to get tested.

She went to the local hospital, where a test confirmed she had COVID-19. Because she was a recent transplant patient, she was transferred to MUSC Health so the doctors here could keep an eye on her and the kidney.

White said she remembers the ride to Charleston, and she remembers being wheeled through the hospital to get to her room, but she doesn’t remember anything after that until she woke up in the COVID ICU.

She didn’t know how her son QuaTravious, 23, struggled as doctors called, asking him to make decisions about his mother’s care, or how he handed the phone off to Anderson. She didn’t know how Anderson struggled to present a hopeful front for White’s children, when even the nurse whom Anderson loved the most would tell her she couldn’t make promises, and they needed to keep praying. She didn’t know that everyone in her home and her sister’s home would also come down with COVID, or that her eldest daughter would have lingering problems. And she didn’t know how many people were praying for her.

“I had a lot of people praying for me. My children, family, friends,” she said.

When White finally awoke, she wasn’t instantly better. She wasn’t allowed to eat on her own for several days, until she could pass a swallow test. She found that she couldn’t control her hands, and she had to learn how to walk again.

“I have had lupus since I was 23 years old, and it has not been a walk in the park, but COVID was 10 times worse,” she said.

White said she’s grateful she could get care at MUSC Health, though there was nothing about her COVID experience that was easy. When she returned home in August, she wrote a long post on Facebook, telling people how difficult it had been. She urges everyone to do their part by listening to the advice of public health professionals.

“Please take it seriously and wear your mask. Use your hand sanitizer. Wash your hands. It’s very important because COVID's taking lives every day. It’s not a joke at all,” she said.

And through it all, she gives thanks to God for her life.

“God has brought me through so much. I believe that he walks with me. He is there. He has not failed me yet.”