Williamsburg couple is a perfect match
The Cook family lives with Erik's mother, Belinda Jones. (Prue Salasky, Daily Press / March 4, 2011)
He and his wife, Michaela, 25, believe that the call will come. "We're hard-core believers in the work God can do," says Erik. But, if it doesn't, she's prepping to give him one of her kidneys in an operation scheduled for Tuesday.
Both consider it a miracle that Michaela proved "a perfect match" for Erik, and she has never felt any reservation about giving her kidney. Before being tested, she prayed, "God, if I'm not a match, make me a match." He describes her as both the love of his life and his "last hope." Now it's getting close, though, she's getting nervous and she's also concerned about being out of work for several weeks. Though Medicare will pick up 80 percent of his medical bills and her surgery is totally covered, that still leaves large transplant-related costs for Erik, coupled with her loss of income.
The family — Michaela's daughter, Mishyiah Perry, 5, and their daughter, Nevaeh-Raene, 3 — lives with Erik's mother, Belinda Jones, herself a cancer survivor. Jones takes care of her son and her granddaughters while Michaela goes to her job at National Optometry.
After the surgery, Jones will be caring for all of them. "God will give me the strength," she says.
Their faith sees them through the daily struggles of coping with Erik's poor health. The couple met at their church, Denbigh Christian Fellowship Church of God. When she married him in February 2007, Michaela knew about Erik's diabetes and his loss of sight — he's legally blind, but the cause has never been determined — and Jones even cautioned her more than once about the responsibilities involved in caring for him. Michaela didn't waver, but his kidney failure came as a terrible blow. "I had no idea, it just snuck up on us all. It was like the minute we said 'I do.' We didn't even have time to enjoy each other," she says.
His challenges have made him tough. His mother insisted he go to regular school, hired a tutor for him so he could graduate with his class, and told him repeatedly he could do anything he wanted. He endured mockery from his fellow students, who would trip him and call him Stevie Wonder, he says. "It was rough. I give my mother credit. She always pushed us. She made us some strong people (his older brother also has diabetes), and it got me a lot of respect the older I got."
Despite his frailty, Erik worked at a bakery until last March, when Michaela insisted he stop. She was fearful that when his blood sugar drops and "he's in a zombie state," he would become confused and step into the traffic on the highway running in front of it.
He's anxious to get back to work to help support her and the children, but his journey to better health has been fraught with setbacks. The kidney transplant, originally scheduled for October, was postponed so Michaela could have gall-bladder surgery. Then, after three months on the waiting list for a pancreas, Jones got a call from the transplant center saying it had one — but it wasn't good. The center then advised Erik that he needed to be ready at any time. His packed bag has been waiting ever since. Instead of being distraught from the false start, both Erik and Michaela see God's hand in it. "I took it like God really is looking out for us and has heard us praying," she says.
Recently, Erik was in the hospital with a bout of peritonitis, an infection from the dialysis. He lifts up his shirt to show a catheter surgically implanted below his navel. "We didn't do anything differently," says Michaela, who took a week off work to supervise his dialysis in the hospital. At home, each evening, she hoists 6-liter bags of fluid up the stairs to their bedroom to start the process. Tubing that carries the waste snakes from their room along the corridor to the bathroom. "It's tough when family is visiting and I'm stuck up here," he says.
She involves her two daughters in the process. Both understand the need for a sterile environment and what to do when the machine starts beeping. They know to find candy for Erik when his blood sugar drops. At other times, they clamber over him happily, asking for kisses.
Erik doesn't protest. "All these women," he sighs. "Sometimes it's like my mom and my wife are married. They go shopping together. They watch movies together. They spend more time together than I spend with my wife."
Want to donate?
Make checks to NTAF (National Transplant Assistance Fund) South-Atlantic Kidney-Pancreas Transplant Fund. Memo line: In honor of Erik Cook.
Send to NTAF, 150 N. Radnor Chester Road, Suite F-120, Radnor, PA 19087; to use a credit card, call 800-642-8399 or visit http://www.NTAFund.org and enter Erik Cook in the Find a Patient box.
NTAF is a nonprofit that has been providing assistance to the transplant community for over 25 years. All donations are tax-deductible and go to transplant-related expenses only.