Two decades after transplant, Clovis family reflects on 'proud moment'

The Fresno BeeApril 10, 2014 

Nancy Starkey of Clovis can look back now, two decades later, and see the miracles that sprang from a very dark moment in her life.

Starkey, then 50, was suffering from polycystic kidney disease, an inherited and deadly kidney disease. She needed a transplant. But as she languished on the organ transplant list, her hopes were dimming.

Then the first miracle happened. Her daughter, Debbie Steitz, married and with two young children and carrying hopes of having a third, volunteered -- no, insisted -- on donating a kidney to Starkey.

The transplant was successful.

Then less than a year later, the second miracle occurred. Steitz was able to give birth to a third child, a healthy daughter named Michelle. The family nicknamed her "miracle baby," her birth coming so soon after Steitz's surgery to give her mom a kidney.

Starkey and Steitz's transplant journey was the subject of a 1995 story in The Bee.

Two decades later, the family still keeps a framed copy of that article.

Printed with the article is a picture of Steitz, her mother and Michelle, who was less than 1 year old.

As the three women looked at the picture last week, Steitz said the operation was one of her biggest accomplishments.

"It was a very proud moment in my life," said Steitz, 48, of Clovis. "She gave me life and took care of me all those years as a child. It was just the right thing do it because it's my mom."

The transplant, a four-hour procedure, was performed Jan. 20, 1994, at the University of California at San Francisco.

The effects of the disease were traced to 10 years earlier, when the thumbnail-sized cysts were discovered. Over time, the cysts grew to the size of a half-dollar.

Starkey was facing kidney failure and dialysis when her daughter stepped up and made the decision of a lifetime.

It's a decision that Starkey, now 70, is thankful for every day.

"I needed help to go on and she was there," Starkey said. "And I thank God she was."

Now, 20 years later, sitting in the living room of her Clovis home with her family surrounding her, Starkey smiled and said "life is good."

Since the operation, Starkey has been able to enjoy cruises to Alaska with her husband, Jim Starkey, and watch her family grow. Along with Steitz, she has two sons -- Bob and Jim -- as well as seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

"I've enjoyed a lot of things. I was here to see my grandchildren grow up and I have great-grandchildren now. That's a blessing to be able to live through that all."

Steitz's daughter, Michelle, said she looks up to the women in her family and applauds her mother's bravery -- and the example she set.

"I think it's just cool seeing what happened," Michelle said. "I know I would do the same thing for my mother."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6330, metro@fresnobee.com or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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