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Transplants successful for Park Rapids native

Family has been important as Melissa Bryant recovers from transplants. Front, from left, are Bryant's children, Emma and River, back, Bryant stands between her parents Marilyn and Cliff Branham. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Melissa Bryant feels good for the first time she can remember.

The Park Rapids native had kidney and pancreas transplants in October after years of being sick. The transplants worked and she is doing well.

"I was diabetic since I was 11 and had complications," she said. "Then, when I had my son four years ago, it got worse."

Her kidneys were starting to fail and she had retinopathy - bleeding in her eyes.

"My blood sugar would go from 30 to 600 in an hour," Bryant said.

Watching her blood sugar and trying different diets didn't work. She was on an insulin pump for five years. Doctors told her that the only other option was to try a transplant so she was sent to the pancreas transplant center at the University of Minnesota - Fairview.

She was added to the pancreas transplant list June 15, 2007.

"They say it usually takes six months to a year to get a pancreas," Bryant said.

She needed a kidney transplant as well so she wouldn't have to go on dialysis.

Her parents, Cliff and Marilyn Branham, who live just north of Park Rapids, decided to be tested to determine if either was a match - and Marilyn was a match.

"I wanted to give her the kidney right away because I knew how sick she was," Marilyn said. "She was so weak and dizzy. My biggest fear was that her kids wouldn't have their mother."

Bryant lives in Milnor, N.D. with her husband, Rick, and their two children, Emma, 9, and River, 4. Her family struggled with her being constantly sick.

"One time Emma, who was 6 at the time, had to call 911 because my blood sugar got so low," Melissa said.

"I carried her right into the emergency room one time because she was so sick," Marilyn said.

Melissa had received several calls from the transplant center about a possible donor but it wasn't until the sixth call that everything fell into place.

"The sixth call was the miracle," Marilyn said.

The pancreas came from a 22-year-old male from Florida who had a gunshot wound to his head, Melissa said. It was a match.

The surgery went well and Melissa said she instantly felt better.

"Right away, I just felt different, I just knew I felt good," Melissa said.

"We were on such a high, seeing her just bounce back," Marilyn said. "It was such a miracle."

Melissa was in the hospital for six days and then had tests every few days. She was able to go home after about a month.

Now, Melissa will be on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life and other drugs to prevent infections. But she no longer needs to watch her diet so closely. The only restriction is grapefruit because it would interfere with one of her medications.

Melissa just saw her doctor again on Friday and "she said I'm doing very well."

A benefit for Melissa was done in Park Rapids in April 2008 and the community was so supportive, she said. A benefit was also held in Milnor, Melissa said.

She graduated from high school in Park Rapids in 1992. She returned to Park Rapids last weekend to talk at St. Johns Lutheran Church about the transplants and the whole process.

"A guy came up to us in church and said that after Melissa's transplant, he got his license renewed and made sure he was a donor," Cliff said.

Melissa wants to continue talking about her transplant and the benefits of organ donation.

Organ donation is so important, Melissa said.

"Just one person being a donor can help up to 50 people," she said.

"Before, I just looked at life as in if I didn't get this transplant, I want to make sure I do everything in my power to touch everybody," she said. "But now I'm able to pursue more about getting the word out about organ donation."