More than 2 years into my journey from the brink of statistical-status to becoming more than a conqueror over the one of the enemy’s most virile attacks on mankind, I now share with you my Really Nourish Journey with Thrive Market.
In November 2014, my father was diagnosed with renal failure. At his first dialysis appointment in Brooklyn, NY, I sat with the center’s kind social worker, Lisa. I was clueless. She explained the basics. How the kidney functions in the body. How the dialysis would substitute the lost function by cleaning the blood. It was a crash course in Biology, a subject I struggled to complete in high school with a barely passing grade.
My first question to her was how long he would have to do the dialysis treatments. Her face gave me the answer: for the rest of his life. My dad was already inside getting set up for his first dialysis session. I was saddened by the thought that this could be his life – in New York, far away from his beautiful island home in the dead of winter, sitting in a clinic hooked up to a machine for 4 hours three times a week.
Your’re from… Where Now?
My family is from the Commonwealth of Dominica. It’s the bucolic island nation that was destroyed during Hurricane Maria. Before Maria, most people had not heard of this country. As a child growing up in Brooklyn, I constantly had to offer the following kinds of explanations about where my family came from: “It’s in the Eastern Caribbean between Martinique and Guadeloupe.” “No, not the Dominican Republic, that’s a different country.” “No, we don’t speak Spanish, we speak English and Patois.” In third grade at PS 119, I was so excited to do a presentation about what my family had taught me about Christmas in Dominica. As I resumed my seat, I remember my teacher adding “In America, we call it the Dominican Republic.” I still remember the feeling of my heart sinking.
After my mother died of cancer at age 56 in 1999, my dad moved back there and built the house they were supposed to retire together in. They had bought a great piece of land in the village of Pointe Michel the early 90’s, and I remember my dad sketching the first and subsequent drafts of the house he would build. We sat on Saturday mornings looking at his sketch and he talked at length about this house. Sometimes my mom would roll her eyes. I was a teen in those days. I enjoyed the time we spent together. Indeed, he built the very house he drew. Although my mother never lived to see it, she is the one who made it possible because it was the pension and life insurance money that financed it’s construction. Remarkable, the house is the among the 5% of homes that survived Maria.
My dad, who had minimal education, singlehandedly built one of Dominica’s first Climate Change resilient houses. We didn’t know this at the time of the conversation we were having. Dominica hadn’t even been through Tropical Storm Erica as yet. All I knew was that I wanted him to go home, because I knew that if he couldn’t, it would be a sad, ironic tragedy that might send him to an early grave.
Becoming a Living Donor
“Unless,” Lisa the social worker said, “someone were willing to give him a kidney, then he could come off the dialysis.”
The Spirit prompted me immediately. “Maybe I could give him one,” I replied, without a moment of hesitation. Her face lit up in response. She excused herself and disappeared to her office, reappearing with brochures for two transplant centers. Now the conversation was a little more upbeat, as she explained this process which in retrospect I knew she wished was an option for all her patients at the center. I would only learn later how inexplicably rare living family donor volunteers are for those needing transplants.
I called my husband in Trinidad to get his consent, and when my dad came out, we got in the Zipcar and drove home. Tears came to his eyes when I told him about what Lisa and I had discussed. Again, I still didn’t think it was a big deal. For me the bottom line was this: if I was able, then I was willing.
We haven’t gotten to Really Nourish yet. We are going to fast forward through the next few months now that you know how it all started.
My Really Nourish Journey with Thrive Market Begins
On a cold day in January 2015, Dad and I traveled by train together to the Recanati-Miller Transplantation Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. My presumption walking in the door was that the only obstacle might be that we don’t match for a transplant. The thing is, Dad is my stepfather, so we are not blood relatives. Nonetheless, I was prayed up and encouraged by faith. People donate kidneys all the time to recipients who are not blood relatives. In fact, sometimes people get kidneys from living or diseased donors who they don’t even know.
We arrived late and were sent to separate rooms. Dad went to one room to be introduced to and briefed by a kidney transplant recipient team. I went into the room where donors get a similar briefing. My briefing included a rude awakening that blindsided me. It started with a questionnaire and a physical. They took my height and weight. They took my blood pressure in both arms. One arm was higher than I’ve ever seen my blood pressure read before. It was borderline hypertensive, I was told. The donor team nurse was a hard-faced, bespectacled white woman who had probably been doing this for years and was unimpressed by my enthusiasm to “Donate Life”. About my weight and the implications – in a nutshell I was a 39-year-old obese black woman – the nurse tersely explained that I may not be in good enough health to be the donor.
“You know that African Americans are more prone to diabetes, and that being overweight is a precursor,” she explained. “And your blood pressure…” She wheeled on her rolling stool over to a desk drawer and took out a sheet to hand me. She ordered me to get three more blood pressure readings on three different days. I could do this for free at any Duane Reade, she explained. (See my video on this topic)
Also, on the questionnaire, I was asked if I had ever been diagnosed with Diabetes in the last 10 years. I wanted to be honest, so I indicated that I remember having been told something about potentially having gestational diabetes with my then 21-month-old son. “If this was a true diagnosis,” she said, “you won’t be able to donate.” I remember I had developed a daily candy bar habit during that pregnancy. I remember a discussion with my midwife at the Brooklyn Birthing Center about my blood sugar. There was a mention of gestational diabetes while I was in labor. I just couldn’t remember if was a diagnosis or a caution. So I now had to get my medical records from the birthing center.
More members of the donor team came in the room and spoke with me. Then, I was allowed to join Dad in his briefing room. When I arrived, the nutritionist was just finishing up, and a transplant surgeon came in after her to explain the surgery. Another Biology lesson. Unlike in high school more than 20 years earlier, I was finding science suddenly fascinating!
Nonetheless, the talk with the donor team nurse weighed heavy on my mind. I couldn’t imagine that I could possibly be in poor health. Up until that point, I had never had any cause to be concerned about high blood pressure. The only talk of diabetes I had ever had during my life was during that pregnancy. On the way home, I shared some of the talk with my dad. I was mad at the whole “African Americans are more prone” thing. I later researched that and discovered why that is, and it isn’t because God made us inferior, that’s for sure! For the moment, while I was in a little bit of denial, I was also prompted to really start thinking long and hard about what direction my health was going in.
I Thought I Was Doing All the Right Things!
There are people who know they are obese, have already developed the related diseases and have an addiction to food that they are aware of. Then there are people like me. I thought I was doing things the right way. My then 6-year-old daughter knew never to ask me to take her to a Mc Donald’s. We didn’t frequent that or any other similar fast food places, other than Subway occasionally. At least at subway, we could get lots of fresh veggies on the sandwiches with the meat and cheese, and only juice. No soda! Also at home, we drank 100% juices. I didn’t buy soda or “juice drinks” for my family. We had started to buy more organic foods, also.
Did I still eat candy bars? Yes I did, but not daily like that phase I went through in the third trimester with Judah. How many? I didn’t keep track. Did I still order pizza? In retrospect, I did this pretty frequently, and we liked pepperoni on ours. But it was from a local mom-and-pop place, not a chain, so I perceived this to be a better option. Also, I did still eat burgers and fries, but again, from local places, so again, I thought it was better.
Homemade: Not Always “Better”
In general, I made a lot of things from scratch and did a lot of home cooking. A healthy daily breakfast almost invariably included two eggs, and if I made them at home, I thought it was better than getting them on the street or in a fast food place. I was buying organic, free range eggs now. It was better. We drank skim milk. We ate whole wheat bread. My blood pressure readings were still fine and other than that encounter during the last pregnancy, my blood sugar was normal. I thought I was doing the right things.
Looking back now, it all seems absurd. Even when my Dad first saw me while he was in the hospital in December 2014, he remarked at how big I had gotten. I waved that off. I was getting older, and I was from a family of women who tended to be “thicker”. My mom was thick, too. Two children, 39 years old, what did he expect? My husband thought I was sexy. That’s not the absurd part. I was beautiful in those days too.
The absurd part was how ignorant I was about the path that I was on. Suddenly coming face to face with the possibility that my health was not what I thought it was shocked me. I remembered that my daughter had come home one day from school last year with some results of some school program health screenings. This paper she handed me said that she was overweight according to something called BMI. That memory prompted me
to research this concept. I found a Body Mass Index calculator online and entered my height and weight. That’s the day I discovered that I was…
The next visit at Mount Sinai was no better. My weight had gone up 2 lbs since the previous visit, and some bloodwork indicated that I could be prediabetic. I quickly leapt out of denial and into acceptance. My acceptance was not to say I was going to live like that. It was my impetus to nip this thing in the bud. The end goal was to donate the kidney, and I couldn’t let anything, not even my ignorance about my health, stop me. I went straight to The Great Physician for a follow up.
The Great Physician’s Prescription
In prayer, I remember saying these words to Jehovah Rapha, our God who heals: “You say all the answers I need in life are in Your word. Please show me.” I told Him that I just wanted, if it is His will, to make sure that my health was going to be good enough to be a donor if we match. At least, I said, if we don’t match, I would like to sow a kidney by donating to someone I do match so maybe I could reap one for him. They explained to me that there is a program for that. It works like a swap. I could match someone else, and that person’s donor that didn’t match them might match Dad, then we all go in and swap kidneys. I was open to that.
The thing is I had not ever been careless about my health. Misguided, certainly, but not careless! I know there are many people out there like that, and when they develop the health problems regardless of how careful they are, they just think they couldn’t avoid it. They are selective about their food, but by the wrong criteria. They are bamboozled by Big Food’s propaganda because they trusted the untrustworthy. I should say we, because I was right there with them. Like I said, I thought I was making good choices for myself and my children. My choices were corroborated by those who I thought would never want to mislead people. It’s food, for crying out loud. Would our government allow this?
In June 2015, I was able to return the sheet to the donor team nurse with three normal level blood pressure checks. She was mildly satisfied. She still wanted to see my birthing center medical records, and I weighed heavier than before once again. I was now 212 lbs and swelling. On the bright side, the blood work for the match test had come back. My dad and I matched perfectly for a transplant! As I rejoiced, Holy Spirit prompted me to read some scriptures. He started me off with Proverbs 23:1-3. Then I saw the documentary Fed-Up. I started to understand what I had been doing wrong, why I had been doing the wrong things and what I was headed for if I didn’t make huge changes.
Thrive Market, My Oasis in the Food Desert: My Shopping Checklist
This was the birth of Really Nourish. Very soon, I learned about Thrive Market. Living in a food desert on the north shore of Staten Island, New York, I suddenly found it difficult to get the new kinds of foods I wanted to be stocking my household with. Up until I found Thrive, I would take a 30-minute bus ride to a nicer neighborhood in Staten Island to shop. I paid them $5.00 to deliver my groceries home and then got back on the bus. Anytime I had a Zipcar, I fit in a shopping stop before heading back to my little food desert neighborhood. Eventually, I started taking the Staten Island Ferry into lower Manhattan to go to Whole Foods, because even that Staten Island supermarket’s selection of organic produce and packaged food was lean. Whole Foods had things like sprouted bread, inexpensive, organic dry goods by the pound, and lots of organic, in season, well priced local produce. Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy as much as I wanted on each trip because I had to carry it all home – no home delivery to Staten Island available. Thrive became my oasis in a food desert!
My new approach was:
- Whole Foods and my local weekly farmer’s market (only operating on Saturday mornings in warmer months). This is how I would stock up on in-season, largely organic fruits and vegetables and fresh breads. I also bought, before I gave it up, organic, grass fed, locally reared animal products.
- In the colder months, I started shopping Fresh Direct for those items.
- Then I would hop onto ThriveMarket.com and order the other stuff I used to have to lug – flour and rice and pasta, healthy snacks for the children and they would send it right to my door!
Because the prices were so low, I was now able to try out health products like spirulina and essential oils that were out of my range before. I never paid for delivery, because my orders were always more than $49.00. I always got a cool freebee and my kids loved to play in the boxes for days after stuff arrived. The packaging was even thoughtful. I was impressed that everything glass wasn’t in plastic bubble wrap. They used something biodegradable, either some corrugated cardboard or some cool kind of cardboard webbing that my children also liked to play with. Let me show you the kind of shopping I did with Thrive.
Really Nourish Journey with Thrive Market: The Changes
In the first month, I dropped 20 lbs by reducing my overall free sugar consumption to under 25 grams a day. I had to actually throw some stuff out in my kitchen and pour some juice down the drain. During that summer, I did lots of yoga with my kids, but not much additional exercise. The 20 stayed off but I couldn’t get below 192 for anything man! Then, after a couple of books, lots more scripture, several more documentaries including Cowspiracy, I made my choice to go vegan. That’s when my journey took me from obese-land, through the overweight mountains to the border lands of normal weight country.
New Nurse 🙂
Along the journey, the donor team at Mount Sinai swapped the hard-faced gate keeper donor team nurse to the lovely, kind faced one, Montgomery Roach. Every visit to Mount Sinai was full of smiles now. Montgomery was excited and encouraged to prepare me for the transplant. My nutritionist was excited about the changes I had made, and everything was full steam ahead for the surgery.
The Big Day!
In March 2016, on a cool early morning, Dad and I shared an Access-a-Ride to Mount Sinai for surgery. It was the culmination of a 17 month journey. It was a relatively short wait, but there was a lifetime of change in both of us during that time. The surgery was a flawless success. While in the surprisingly comfortable and pretty recovery suite (donated by a past donor who wanted future donors to have at least the reward of a nice place to stay after donating an organ), one of the surgeons came in to see me. He told me that the kidney was “beautiful”. How great it was to know that
not only could I give my Dad an organ that would allow him to go home and live a normal life in his beloved Dominica, but that the quality of the gift was good enough that a surgeon who had done this 400 times before in his career was impressed! I moved to Trinidad a bit later that year, but still maintain my Thrive membership. Just recently, I joined Thrive as an affiliate, so I could accompany my story with a resource that my American members can use to actually achieve their goals no matter where they live. Here’s more about Thrive’s commitment to making high quality food available to everyone.
God gets all the glory, but I believe part of His plan was that Thrive Market relieve me of the problem of food desert life by giving me affordable, easy access to the kind of food He wanted me to use to care for His temple. Thrive Market can be a vital partner in your journey too. My next goal is to help bring this kind of thing here to Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean Islands. If the American way of life is going to be exported here along with it’s lifestyle disease health pandemic, and this is happening rapidly around the world, then why can’t we also export the groundswell movement towards more affordable access to healthier options with free delivery in cool, environmental friendly packaging?
Wouldn’t that be a more responsible thing to share with the rest of the world?