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Vicki Guthrie learns about kidney failure the hard way, but finds an organ donor

Vicki Guthrie is no stranger to the bad news/good news scenario. In April 2018, the Oregon City resident felt like she had the flu, but after a visit to the emergency room was told she had end-stage renal failure. That, of course, was the bad news; the good news is that this story has a happy ending.

Guthrie graduated from Oregon City High School in 1993, where she was active in the theater department. She went on to graduate from Seattle Pacific University and worked for 20 years in the HR department of a local company.

COURTESY PHOTO - Vicki Guthrie, left, and her sister-in-law, Sally Hostetler, are all smiles after Guthrie received a healthy kidney from Hostetler in a successful transplant operation this past May.Guthrie also remained interested in theater, costuming OCHS plays, while also appearing in musicals and plays with local theater groups.

But then came the spring of 2018, and things changed drastically.

"I was an average, 40-year-old woman. I had never been pregnant or broken a bone. There was no family history of kidney disease," Guthrie said.

After her diagnosis of renal failure, she endured two blood transfusions, had a port placed in her chest, and was hooked up to dialysis.

"I was transferred to Portland Providence Hospital, stayed two weeks and went home to start my journey," Guthrie said.

Even though she was home, she was still extremely ill; she lost 50 pounds and was bedridden for a few months.

"Dialysis became my second home," she said, noting that she was hooked up to a machine three days a week for five hours at a time.

"It kept me alive, but I couldn't do normal activities because I was so sick, so weak. I couldn't even tie my own shoes. It was a heartbreaking time."

At the same time, Guthrie was determined not to allow the disease to consume her life. She began to educate herself about kidney failure and found out that it is the ninth leading cause of death in the United States.

Organ donor list

"This was all completely foreign to me. I had to go to educational classes and countless appointments to be considered for the organ donor list," Guthrie said.

It took nine months to get on the list, and when she finally did, two people close to her were tested.

Although her brother was not a match, her sister-in -law was not only a match, but her genetic markers were a 100% match, which meant the donated kidney could last for 30 years, Guthrie said.

"It was a miracle," she added.

Throughout the process, Guthrie discovered that there is so much more to kidney-donation testing than she had thought.

Sally Hostetler, her sister-in-law, had weeks of CAT scans, ultrasounds and other tests, before the transplant was scheduled.

This past May, the surgery went well and Guthrie's new kidney began to function perfectly. Now, Guthrie is feeling good and does not have to face dialysis anymore. She does have to take 18 anti-rejection pills twice a day for the rest of her life and has to be careful of her diet, but she feels it is time to resume her normal life.

"I have the breath and voice to sing again and the energy to juggle a lot of things," Guthrie said.

Dream deferred

In 2015, Guthrie had taken on directing duties in an after-school drama program at Oregon City's North Clackamas Christian School, putting on spring musicals. Then, in January 2018, Guthrie was at Helen's Pacific Costumers in Portland checking out costumes for a play that she was directing, and discovered that the shop was closing.

People were walking out with armloads of costumes and Guthrie could not stop thinking about what was going to happen to all those items.

"It broke my heart — all the history of this building and those beautiful costumes," she said.

She went home and made a momentous decision to buy the entire remaining inventory.

"Within 48 hours, I had acquired several thousand costumes and moved them into storage," Guthrie said.

The plan was to open her own business, Victoria's Lil' Shop of Costumes.

"Oregon City would be such a fun town to have a costume shop. I could cater to the public and reach out to other schools for their productions," she said.

But then came kidney failure, which put a stop to all her plans. She still wants to open her business, but her doctors have not cleared her to do that yet. Guthrie hopes that within a year she will find a space and open a costume shop.

'Octette Bridge Club'

But for now, Guthrie is thrilled to resume directing her students and acting, singing and working again with Karlyn Love, her drama teacher from high school. Love, who retired in 2018, cast Guthrie in "The Octette Bridge Club," opening Nov. 15 at the Rose Villa Performing Arts Center.

The play, set in the 1930s and '40s, features eight sisters who have been meeting for years to play bridge together. Guthrie plays Lil, the seventh of the eight siblings.

"She is the life of the party. She always looks at the happiest side of things," Guthrie said.

"She is quirky and has a fun sense of humor. She is energetic and you never know what she is going to say next."

Working again with Love has brought Guthrie's life full circle.

"She was a teacher I knew I'd have in my entire life. She was an advocate for me on my kidney journey, and I use her teaching and directing style with my students," Guthrie said.

"I admire Vicki's determination to get her life back to normal after her health struggle. I admire her putting herself out there, taking on the enormous amount of hard work and energy it takes to be in a show," Love said.

"Her resolve to bring as much joy and normalcy back to her life is inspiring. But, most importantly, she is absolutely perfect to play the character of Lil, just perfect."

Being a donor

Looking back on her ordeal, Guthrie has become convinced of two things: miracles happen and more people should consider becoming organ donors.

These days, when people tell her they don't believe in miracles, she says, "Let me tell you my story," Guthrie said.

As for organ donation, "don't be afraid of it. You can't take it with you," she said, adding that she could not have survived without the support of her family and friends.

She is grateful that dialysis saved her life, but "being on a machine is just not a good way of life," Guthrie said.

"A transplant is an amazing journey that tests the limits of human strength and courage. It requires commitment and faith as well as mental, emotional and physical endurance," she said.

"If you can handle a kidney transplant, you can conquer anything you set your mind to. It is one of life's greatest challenges, and among the rewards is life itself."

Guthrie added, "My donor gave me back my life so I can be on stage, and so I can direct and give kids the opportunity to be what they want to be."

Live theater

What: New Century Players presents "The Octette Bridge Club"

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15-16, 22-23, 29-30 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 17, 24 and Dec. 1

Where: Rose Villa Performing Arts Center, 13505 S.E. River Road, Oak Grove.

Tickets: $20, general admission, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students. Tickets are available at the door, at NewCenturyPlayers.org or by calling 503-367-2620.


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