Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

Ahh, Mother's Day.

It's the day each year that mothers coast to coast are honored with flowers, fine chocolates, and more importantly, hugs and kisses.

For 23-year-old Kacy Branam of Albany and her mother, Lynn Suggs of Lee County, Mother's Day has a very special meaning, far beyond flowers and candy. It's a love that never can be shattered.

Ten years ago, they were in the process of desperately trying to save Branam's life.

After it was discovered that Kacy was suffering from renal failure in the spring of 1999, mother and daughter visited Dr. John Sanders of Albany before getting on the medical merry-go-round with trips to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Emory Hospital in Atlanta without finding a physician who could help.

Dr. Sanders then sent mother and daughter to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla. That's where they received optimistic news about a kidney transplant.

Finding a suitable match was difficult, and the waiting list for a potential donor was long, perhaps two years. The situation was complicated because Kacy was in stage 15 of renal failure, one short step from dialysis. Her kidneys were functioning at only 10 percent.

The pair then decided to find their own donor -- Suggs.

She had to undergo a plethora of tests for six months before the transplant was finally done on June 24, 2001.

Among the tests Suggs had to undergo were how much urine she would pass during a 24-hour period. She also had to undergo counseling to be certain she fully comprehended what was going to happen.

When asked if she had any misgivings about donating her kidney, Suggs said succinctly, "Kacy is my child and I wasn't going to let anything happen to her. ... There was no choice, plus I also knew part of me would be with Kacy every minute of every day."

Added Kacy, "I love my mother to death, and I would do anything for her. I would die for her if I had to. ... She's like my best friend."

Pre-transplant nerves began to hit Kacy as the procedure approached.

When given a tour of the dialysis center at Shands Hospital, Kacy saw the two tubes attached to patients, one taking blood out and another putting it back.

"Seeing those tubes really scared me, and I panicked and ran out of the room," Branam recalled.

Said Suggs: "I had to chase her all over to calm her down. She really got upset after seeing that."

While the transplant was a success, the pair's difficulties had hardly ended.

Suggs was released from the hospital two days after the procedure, but it took six months before the effects of losing her kidney dissipated. "I was retaining fluid and was always swollen," she explained.

Kacy, meanwhile, remained in the hospital for a week.

"I could see the difference in her in two days. She had color back in her face," Suggs said.

Once returning to Albany, Kacy had to adjust to an atypical teenage life. She could not be around smoke or consume an alcoholic beverage or stay in the sun in order to avoid potential risks of cancer.

Teen parties were out.

She also had to endure unwelcome taunts from her seventh-grade classmates. After returning to school following the procedure, she would hear things like, "Ewwwww, I don't want to be around her."

While such taunts might not bother a young adult, they certainly had a deleterious effect on a young teen.

"I just had to grow up in a hurry," Branam said.

Kacy also was required to take 18 pills a day -- 10 in the morning -- every day for the rest of her life to avoid possible rejection.

Soon after the surgery, Kacy then went through what Suggs refers to as "her wild period."

She quit high school in the 11th grade and during the same period moved out of her house for six months to live with a friend.

"I was just being a dumb teenager ... I just didn't want to go to school so I didn't go," Branam said. "I left home because I wanted to be on my own, to be independent."

Epilogue

Branam and Suggs will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the kidney transplant on June 24. Since the end of her "wild period," a lot of positive things have occurred in Branam's life.

- She married David Branam on April 9, 2008.

"We have a good relationship, and he does make sure that I take all of my pills every day," she said. "But I wish he would not try to baby me as much as he does."

- Despite quitting high school as a junior, Kacy earned her GED at Albany Technical College in July 2009. The business major has continued her studies at Albany Tech, taking 19 credits this semester. She hopes to graduate in December and then plans to continue her education at Darton College.

- Branam joined Suggs as a member of the staff at Ryan's Steak House in Albany three years ago and has been there since.

- Because her physical condition has stabilized, Branam needs to see her physician only once a year and has her blood tested every six months.

Not bad for a kid who was perched on death's door a decade ago before her mother swooped in to save her.