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Kim Richardson received a double transplant of a kidney and pancreas last year at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.
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Kim Richardson at Indiana University Health after her double transplant surgery. She was in the hospital nearly three weeks before being released to come home.

By JEFF STANTON - jstanton@newsexaminer.com

Kim Richardson learned she had Type 1 diabetes when she was 10 years old. She had to start using insulin so her body could use sugar. 

Richardson – a professional actress who calls Connersville home – no longer has diabetes. She no longer must use insulin. 

Last year, she had a double transplant, getting a new kidney and pancreas. 

Life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries for the 1980 graduate of Connersville High School, wife of 10 years to Nate Richardson and mother of a combined family of five and grandmother of four. But it’s much better now.

“I started taking the insulin shots when I was 10,” Kim recalls. “I’ve been diabetic for so long that I wasn’t sensitive to the hypoglycemic reactions. I would totally black out and if I would black out at night when I’m asleep, I would seizure and my husband would have to use these shots to bring me out of it; it was ridiculous.”

Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when there is too much insulin and not enough glucose in the blood, according to Diabetes-FAQ.org.

Kim also suffered from kidney failure because diabetics have a hard time fighting infections. As of last summer, only 13 percent of her kidney function was available.

She needed a transplant but until a suitable donor could be found, she was staring down dialysis, a procedure which removes toxins from the blood, a job normally done by the kidneys.

Besides chronic kidney failure, Kim has had seven eye surgeries for retinopathy. She has neuropathy in her hands and feet.

Life came to a near standstill for her about five years ago when she was hospitalized with pneumonia. Up to that point, she still had 50 percent of her kidney function.

“When I had pneumonia, I was dehydrated and that’s when my kidney function took a big dive and it went down to 27 percent, which is Stage 4,” she says.

While being treated for pneumonia in the hospital, doctors wanted Kim to prepare for dialysis by having a port installed to receive the treatment. She wanted to wait and see, because, “God has kept me going for this long and I’m going to trust Him and wait.”

She hoped her kidney function would return. Doctors said that was unlikely. They were right.

“It just continued to drop slowly and then it’s just been a year and a half ago, they said that I had to get ready for dialysis and that I had to get on the transplant list,” Kim said.

That’s when she learned her insurance would not cover a transplant. Doctors would not even evaluate her until she had coverage that would cover the cost of a transplant.

In January 2017 Kim found different insurance coverage and qualified for transplant coverage. Doctors immediately went to work on her case.

During that same time frame in January 2017, Kim and husband Nate took a trip to Florida. She became even more ill. Still, she managed to go skydiving, as sick as she was.

“I jumped out of a plane at 14,000 feet,” she said. “It was on my bucket list and I told the guy in the air because we tandem jumped, I said, ‘I’m going to have to start dialysis soon. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it at that point. So, I’ve always been careful not to let my health slow me down, but I’m also cautious, I’m not foolish with it, but give God the glory by keeping going.”

When Kim was approved for a transplant, her name went straight to the top because she needed two organs. People sometimes wait for years, but it helped that she had a common blood type, O-positive.

She finally had the dialysis port installed June 28. Kim had been home from that for only an hour when she received a call to come for transplant surgery. 

“We spent hours at the hospital prepping for surgery, going through tests and at the last minute, at 9 o’clock at night, they sent me home without the surgery and said the organs were not useable,” she said.

Kim started dialysis at home a month later. Two weeks later, she got another call from Indiana University Health. This time, the transplant happened.

“He (the doctor) said I got the Cadillac of organs,” Kim recounts.

The two-organ transplant lasted six hours, beginning at 2 a.m.

“They brought me into the operating room in a wheelchair,” Kim recalls. “I was fine, I was nervous, and the doctor was sitting there looking into this container and kind of smiling and he looked up at me and said, ‘you want to see your pancreas?’ It took me off guard, so I didn’t even time to respond before she pushed my wheelchair right over to him and he held it up right in front of me, so I’m looking at this pancreas that is in my body now.

Kim says she felt reasonably well after the surgery. She was heavily medicated and swollen, especially her legs. She had lines attached throughout, and 36 staples holding everything together.

She stayed in the hospital for nearly three weeks. Kim was home for a month before going back for four days due to the medication’s toxicity level. 

For three months after the surgery, Kim was required to visit a doctor in Indianapolis twice weekly for evaluations. Nate had to return to work. Finding someone to stay with her and drive her to the city was a challenge. “That’s when you find out who your real friends are,” she said. 

One downside from the transplants: she must ingest organ transplant anti-rejection medications for the remainder of her life. Another: she’s on a very strict gluten-free diet.

Among the “wackier” challenges Kim is learning to live with are side effects from the daily anti-rejection medications, including hair loss, headaches and acne.

Looking back she says, “There were times I didn’t know if I could handle it or not. At one point when I was in the hospital, I was so sick and after surgery there were several days that I didn’t smile. My husband was talking to with my friend on the phone and he told her he was afraid I was giving up. It was very tough, it was definitely the toughest thing I’ve ever gone through.”

Kim has been vocal about her illness, especially on Facebook. “A lot of people don’t do that with my being an actress and in the film industry,” Kim states.

Kim is currently working in pre-production for her next film, “Can You See Me.” It is to be shot entirely on location in Connersville. It was set to begin filming this spring, but that may be moved to later in 2018 or the spring of 2019.

Overall, “I feel a lot better,” Kim says. “We just got back from Florida again. I didn’t skydive again but we did ride roller coasters for three days at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

“My husband and I are roller coaster junkies.”

NAME: Kimberly J. Richardson

OCCUPATION: CEO of Tri-Epsilon Productions; screenwriter, producer, actress. Didn't begin film acting until she turned 50.

FILMS: Losing Breen (2017); Seven Deadly Words (2013); and Jackson's Run (2013)

SCHOOL: Graduated 12th in her class in 1980 from Connersville High School