A second chance at life

When 62-year-old Petaluma resident Jacque Metcalfe was told that she only had a few months left to live, she began preparing for the end — getting her affairs in order, working on her "bucket list," and saying goodbye to loved ones. But one month into her terminal diagnosis, she was offered a new procedure that saved her life. Metcalfe said the experience changed her life.

"Years ago I had wanted to get involved with volunteering, but I always thought I'd have more time to do it," said Metcalfe. "But I've come to realize that for me, it's now or never."

Metcalfe has been receiving dialysis three times a week since she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease more than seven years ago, but her health changed dramatically for the worse in August of 2011 when her heart began to fail. It was caused after a heart bypass surgery four years ago, when she began taking heart medications that reacted react badly with her dialysis.

Doctors initially found no solutions, since the dialysis that was treating her chronic kidney disease was also inflaming her new heart condition. Metcalfe's health got so bad that between bouts of dizziness, fainting, nausea and extreme weakness, doctors told her the end was near. She said she had accepted that her life was ending and felt peaceful about her impending death.

But then, much to her surprise, doctors discovered a new surgical procedure that involved using a pacemaker to regulate her blood pressure. Metcalfe jumped at the chance for a new lease on life —?and the surgery worked. While she still receives dialysis 12 hours a week for her chronic kidney disease, Metcalfe no longer suffers from heart problems. And she says she has used her newfound "heart health" to work on her "emotional health."

"It's so easy, when you have a chronic disease, to be self-absorbed," said Metcalfe on a rainy Friday afternoon, smiling as she clutched her shoulder bag full of crochet needles and yarn, awaiting her dialysis treatment. "But now that I've beat one medical condition, I'm using the time spent fighting my other condition to gain fulfillment through helping others."

Now, when Metcalfe sits in her dialysis chair at the Fresenius Medical Care clinic in Petaluma, hooked up to a machine for four hours at a time, she busily pivots her crochet needles and yarn into warm hats for the homeless and patients undergoing chemotherapy.

It's quite the feat for a woman who is also legally blind, meaning that she can only blurrily identify large shapes. "My stitches aren't perfect yet, but I'm getting there," Metcalfe said as she squinted at a cream-colored cap.

Linda McCoy, a social worker at Fresenius Medical Care who works with Metcalfe, said that she has seen a change in Metcalfe's outlook on life, something that doesn't always happen to patients undergoing treatment for chronic illnesses.

"Jacque shows people what they can do when they step out of their own illness," said McCoy. "It's not easy and certainly not something to expect from everyone. But when someone can do it, they prove they are a true fighter, and often wind up making the world a little better around them."

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