As a man who enjoys building hot rods, Duane knows it takes time to put all the right pieces into place before running at full capacity. Whether it’s his 1966 Chevy or his health, the bigger picture always has been in plain sight, along with patience and an overall appreciation for the people who have helped him along the way.
"Every day I thank the Lord before I go to bed and again when I wake up. My bad days are better than your good days.”
Now a retiree with seven grandkids keeping him busy, Duane’s life took a sharp turn many years ago at age 27 when he was in a serious auto accident. At the time, his internal injuries landed him in the hospital for three weeks. Although he was wearing his seatbelt, the steering column broke his bones and bruised internal organs.
“They told me in six months to watch for any new symptoms. In that exact amount of time, I got Type 1 diabetes. Twenty years of giving yourself shots and trying to control diabetes took a toll on my kidneys.”
On dialysis for five and a half years, Duane did have some family members tested, but he refused their help out of concern for their future well-being. So he remained on the transplant list until June 8, 2009. That was the day it all came together and he received a kidney and a pancreas with UPMC in central Pa. It was what he considered a second chance at life.
“I was either at the leading edge or the end of something spectacular. I just sit back and think I have someone else’s organs inside my body. One day I will meet my donor in Heaven if I live my second life on the straight and narrow.”
While his transplant was 10 years ago and he finds it sometimes difficult to remember just how sick he had been, the care he received was not forgotten. In fact, despite living in West Virginia, he continues to travel to see the team twice a year for checkups.
“Dr. Yang and the nurses were tremendous. You can’t find a better team. UPMC in central Pa. had me spoiled! Even after 10 years, that team is on top of it and know me in and out. They are one of the best anywhere.”
Duane credits his doctors, of course, for his success, but is just as quick to credit his family for giving him a reason to live and in his words, “saved him.” At the time, Duane had only one grandchild, Kyler, who was 2 ½ and protecting him was top of mind. He also had plans for him and his wife of 40 years. Now that he’s feeling better, he said it’s “her turn” to be spoiled. They travel together, in addition to being involved with his church and attending car shows. That passion was reignited by his son, who encouraged him to begin building his latest model while he was sick. The mere thought of that time together and constructing that car makes him smile. Duane smiles a lot today.
“I feel great and attitude makes a difference. When you don’t feel good, others don’t feel good. Smiling is highly contagious. I am the most positive person you will ever meet.”
Every day Duane walks through his woods and says he always feels and sees something different. He also recognizes the differences in the power of simple conversation. Simply noticing another person’s difficulties or even saying hello can make a positive impact on another.
“I found my voice since my transplant. I used to be quiet, but now I speak freely even to strangers. Something changed in me and my wife can attest to that. I’m living what the Lord gave me and keep pushing forward.”
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