January 20, 2010 Edition

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Christmas miracle arrives on
Dec. 22 for Carrie Mae Snapp

Carrie Mae Snapp (center) shares an information booklet about kidney transplants with her brother, Charles Snapp (standing), and sister-in-law, Jackie. They were surprised to learn that she still has her own kidneys as well as the transplanted one she received.
Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Miracles come in many shapes and forms and usually when you least expect them. Carrie Mae Snapp of Walnut Ridge received a miracle when she underwent a kidney transplant on Dec. 22. She calls it a Christmas miracle, a very special gift. It is even more miraculous because she is the first ovarian cancer survivor to receive a transplant.

For the past 15-and-a-half months, Snapp has been undergoing periteneal dialysis four times a day at home. In August her name was placed on the list along with others waiting for a transplant. Each month she was required to have a blood sample taken at the St. Bernard Dialysis Center in Jonesboro to make sure that her blood count was good and that she had not picked up any antibodies in the event a kidney became available.

"On Dec. 21, I walked into the dialysis center to have my blood drawn, and the staff looked at me as if I were dead," Snapp said. They asked me what I was doing there, and I thought something was seriously wrong with my last blood work.

"They asked me again what I was doing there, and Sherry Freeze, a nurse at the center, then asked me if I had received a phone call."

They had learned an hour earlier that Snapp was to receive a kidney, but she hadn't been notified yet.

"I was very surprised but would not let myself get too excited," she said. "I thought twice before that I was about to receive a transplant and wasn't able to get one."

Snapp said she would believe she had a kidney when she woke up in the recovery room because there are so many last minute things that can prevent a transplant.

Her first opportunity for a kidney was lost because of her cancer diagnosis. She had a second opportunity for a transplant in early November. A week before her cousin, Cindy Luffman Wilson, was to donate her kidney to Snapp, doctors learned that Wilson was pre-diabetic and could not make the donation.

Third time is charm

The third time was the charm.

On Dec. 22, Snapp underwent the six-hour transplant surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.

"I just laughed when I woke up in the recovery room and was assured I had a new kidney," Snapp said. "Then I went back to sleep-it was the best sleep I've ever had. And I came out of recovery with a smile on my face!"

Snapp said she was determined to get a kidney transplant and just as determined to have a good recovery. Dr. Gary Barone, her transplant surgeon, told her that if he had not met her before the surgery and known how determined she was, he would not have done the transplant.

"He had to remove scar tissue from my previous surgeries to make room for the kidney," she said. "The kidney wouldn't have fit otherwise."

She had prepared herself for the possibility of a two-week hospital stay but was home four days after the surgery. "I haven't taken one pain pill, and I'm not even sore," she said.

Her doctors are amazed at her recovery. "I am determined to have an easy recovery," she says with a smile. "I feel better than I've felt in 10 years. I feel like I have a new lease on life."

"This has been a spiritual journey for me. The hardest lesson I had to learn was 'not in my time but in God's time.'"

Snapp was told that her donor was a 32-year-old woman from Hot Springs, and she is very grateful to the woman's family. "At a time when they were experiencing the most extreme grief, they thought of someone else, and a part of their daughter is still alive in me and the other kidney recipient," she said.

The donor's family can designate who receives the organs, and this family wanted both kidneys to stay in Arkansas, she explained. A man from Quitman received one of the kidneys, and the other kidney could have gone to someone in another state if they were a better match than me. Instead, because of the family's request, I received the transplant and matched 5 out of six points.

"I would like to thank the donor's family but have to wait a year before I can petition the organ donor center to learn who they are. Then the family can decide whether or not they would like me to contact them."

"I owe them a debt of gratitude that I'll work the rest of my life to repay."

Ginger Bibb, Snapp's cousin who teaches art at Walnut Ridge High School, said Carrie Mae's attitude through the whole ordeal has been amazingly upbeat and positive.

"She hadn't given up on getting a kidney, but she was looking in the opposite direction when the news came; that always makes it sweeter," Bibb said. "She's given and given to our joint community, enriching the lives of others through her time, talent and hard work her entire life. She deserved the kidney and more. If I were to select one word to describe her transplant, 'miracle' is the surest fit."

Diagnosed as diabetic in 1988

Snapp, an art teacher at Hoxie High School and lifetime resident of Walnut Ridge, was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1988. She said around Christmastime that year she wasn't feeling well and was eating a lot of sweets at holiday functions. One of her students at that time, Missy Spades who is also a diabetic, told her she should go to the doctor because she had all the symptoms of diabetes.

"Missy saved my life," Snapp said. "I went to the doctor the next day and my blood sugar was 600, dangerously high. Anytime your blood sugar is above 165 it causes permanent damage. I was lucky that I wasn't in a diabetic coma."

Her kidneys began to fail in 2005, and she learned that she needed a transplant. She made an appointment to see about getting on the transplant list, but soon learned she had another serious health problem that had to be dealt with immediately.

In January of 2006, Snapp underwent surgery to remove what specialists believed was a cyst on her ovary. "I woke to the news that I had clear cell carcinoma-ovarian cancer," Snapp said. "They were able to remove the tumor and believed they got it all."

"Since I already had the appointment to see about getting on the transplant list, I went ahead and kept it," said Snapp. "They told me I had to be cancer free and out of chemo for two years before I could even be considered as a candidate.

Another surgery was performed in May and a few cancer cells were removed. Doctors determined the stage of the cancer she had as stage 1C. "Without the staging, I would have been ineligible to have my name on the transplant list," Snapp said. She underwent four rounds of Taxol chemotherapy, which has only one chemical in it. Most chemotherapy includes three chemicals but she couldn't take that because of her kidneys. She is now cancer free but sees her doctor every three months for checkups.

Believes in power of prayer

Carrie Mae is a believer in the power of prayer. "Receiving my kidney, surviving cancer and doing so well shows what the people of Walnut Ridge and Hoxie praying together have done for me," Snapp said. "I had Sunday school classes from all over the county, family, friends, co-workers and even people I don't know well praying for me. When you need them, the people of Lawrence County are here for you."

Friends in Alabama also had their Sunday school class praying for her, and they were specifically praying that she would receive a kidney for Christmas. "I would say Dec. 22 was close enough to call their prayers answered," she said.

She is very grateful for all the support she has received including phone calls, cards, visits and words of encouragement when she needed them. She added that the Women of Front Street, the group of women friends who assist her in play productions, are her 'Steel Magnolias.' "I have a magnificent support system!" she said. "Several local people offered to give me one of their kidneys," Snapp added. "I was surprised and touched by their offers."

Full of plans for the future

When her eight-week medical leave is up, Snapp is ready to get back to her students and is full of plans for the future.

"The Traveling Classroom is going to Chicago this year and will be putting on a show to raise funds for the trip. "We will also be doing a play in the summer as a fund-raiser for The Children's Shelter."

Her childhood sandbox buddy and lifelong friend Russ Boyd said that Snapp's strong will through all her health problems has been unbelievable. "Her positive attitude inspired her friends to be positive for her, keeping her spirits up," he said. "She has been a godsend to me, helping me through my painful degenerative spinal disease. She went through so much and has shown me that I can make it, too."

Snapp is an inspiration to all those who know her. Whatever part of the world she happens to be in always seems to be a little brighter when she's there.

Snapp taught art and drama at Walnut Ridge High School fox six years and at Hoxie High School, where she is currently employed, for ten years. She taught oral communications and drama at Williams Baptist College for three years and was the oral communications and fine arts visual teacher at Black River Technical College for six years. She has also worked with the Ralph Joseph Youth Leadership program for many years.

She was the artistic director of Front Street Theatre for 14 years and also held workshops for children who wanted to learn about acting. She is the originator and sponsor of Hoxie's Traveling Classroom and has taken her students to New York City, Niagara Falls, Washington, D.C., and to several other cities across the nation.

"I want to show our kids they can exist somewhere other than here, but also that they can stay here by choice. I think this is a good place to live," she said.

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