Organ Donation: A Personal Journey


The gift of clean air, which many of us take for granted, has been choked out of Californians recently with the seemingly never-ending wildfires, most recently the Camp Fire. Coughing incessantly, throats raw and dry, sinuses plugged, breathing with great difficulty, not leaving the home as all these symptoms will worsen with each exposure. 
And the daily joy in life? Harder to find in these smoky circumstances.
I yearn to bring every single loved one to the coast with me as I see today’s Air Quality Index “Very Unhealthy.” Take note, usually it’s “very unhealthy for sensitive people.” In other words, ALL of us are at great risk as these wildfires continue to burn in our parched, drought ridden
California, waiting for rain that may come. (It’s Tuesday so hopefully we have rain as you read this).
I am still “Coastal Girl,” as my dear friend JB calls me. Every day I ask myself, “Why me?” How is it I’ve been given three different homes, by three different couples, to recover, renew, and strengthen this frail body (body, mind you; the mind is years younger!). 
Tonight, as I’m watching the sunset over the ocean, I’m quite overwhelmed with gratitude. I’ve returned to Cayucos, which was the beginning of my coastal journey in August, unable to go from bedroom to bathroom with rest.
It is here, in Carol and Gene’s home, that I rediscovered the independent me. After a month of various loving caretakers, I spent three months with mostly Sadie (dog) and myself, began driving again after 14 months of no vehicle (we found a 2015 Mazda CX-5 with 29,000 miles in
October — hoorah!), and the cycle is complete. 
I call this “The Healing Haven,” and it’s so befitting that I’m here. Now, I wait for rain.
There have been several events in Three Rivers that I’ve missed, certainly not easy decisions to make. Dynamic Lives, presented by Aging in Community-Three Rivers, was last Sunday. It was with great honor and utter humility that I was chosen as one of the 12 highlighted individuals with a unique oral story of my life in Three Rivers. 
To be among illustrious honorees, Gaynor McKee, Tom and Dodie Marshall, Bonnie Lasswell, Steve Bennett, Eileen Farrell, Sheridan King, Jack and Carol Rookstool, Louise Jackson and Bob Tomlinson ­— be still my heart!
Though I didn’t come home due to horrid air, I watched every moment of the event with my daughter, Meaghan, using FaceTime. The crowd saw me and, even better, I saw them! 
The afternoon went smoothly, the Story Gatherers embracing their Story Tellers, all in such a celebratory mood. I’m in awe of the Aging in Community group and the love and time that went into each and every individual. 
And the portraits by Nadi! She captured the essence of all 12, with my laughter and joy for life shown in my eyes and my huge smile! 
The beauty of this project — these oral histories — go into a book available for sale and also for loan at the local Tulare County library.
I won’t make it home for Thanksgiving, one of my favorite celebrations with my daughters, their boyfriends, Mignon, neighbor Jana, and any orphan that needs a family. The girls will carry on this tradition without mamacita and papi (our names they use to refer to us). Steven
(husband) will come celebrate our numerous blessings in Cayucos where we hopefully find a good seafood restaurant that’s open.
I’ve missed months of Dodger games and months of worshiping with my church family at First Baptist Church as well as my Thursday morning Bible Study group. I’ve been mother counsel to my daughters from the phone.
And I've been counting the days until my husband’s visit every 10 days. (His busiest time as a tour guide with Sequoia Sightseeing Tours is May to October, and he loves sharing his backyard with visitors from around the world).
Yet, all of these events don’t matter if you’re not alive to enjoy them. I choose life; I choose to accept the generosity of my family and friends; I choose to be a part of a special community in any capacity possible.
When I return, restored, I’ll pull up to the Post Office or one of our local eateries and know that I am forever a part of Three Rivers.
Breathe easy, my friends. Live here, right now. Make the best of whatever you have and share it. I pray for California and RAIN!
I’ll be home for Christmas!
Rachelle Ledbetter has been on the list for a double lung transplant since November 2016. Rachelle and her husband, Steve Swinney, have lived in Three Rivers for 32 years. Rachelle has allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) and bronchiestasis. She is dependent on supplementary oxygen 24 hours a day.


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