STILWELL – On Aug. 12, Cherokee Nation citizen Tresa Eagle-Miller celebrated the one-year anniversary of receiving a long-awaited kidney transplant in 2022. The year following the transplant brought about new life for Eagle-Miller after five years of struggling to survive.
Before receiving a new kidney, her life consisted of constant doctors visits, multiple surgeries, dialysis, necessary changes in appetite and multiple medications to keep her going on a daily basis. She was initially diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease in 2017.
In the first six months after surgery, she had to relearn ordinary things like using the bathroom, which she was unable to do for 19 months before her surgery.
“Medicine was a challenge, but I’ve gotten that under control. Learning how to sit still and let my body heal and how to be alive again. Sometimes I would be laying there and thinking, ‘I’m just so sick’ and now I’m not (anymore.) I’m not sick. I can move around. That was the hardest thing, that many years to be sick to all of a sudden feeling the best I’ve ever felt and to be able to move and to be able to take care of my grandkids,” Eagle-Miller said.
Changes in her physical appearance were also evident, getting the color back in her skin and eyes.
“I was restored to what I had lost for so many years. I’m not as strong as I was. But I’m learning. I can now go from a squatted position to standing up. That was hard to get that strength back. But I’m getting it. It’s not where it needs to be, but it just takes times. I was a big surgery, and it’s big to adjust to having someone else’s organ in you.”
Eagle- Miller said her mindset has also changed, holding on to her faith through the entire experience.
“Your personality, your gumption, your faith, everything plays a part in your healing and your mindset,” she said. “My mindset was to get home, see my grandbabies, get back to work, be a wife and be what I wished I could be while laying in my bed day after day. Being able to get up and walk and not worried, not afraid, not planning my death. Now I’m planning life.”
Now, her day consists of giving back to others in her community, specifically elders through her job and because there is a need to fulfill.
“A lot of it is to just serve my people, my elders, my youth, my community,” she said. “It’s what I’ve been doing. I make jewelry, I make kanuchi, I can (canning), and I don’t charge for it because I was given the gift of life, and so I give my stuff away. That’s a small portion of what I can do as a servant.”
Through her experiences, Eagle-Miller said her goal is to help others who need kidney transplants, who are on dialysis, but don’t have the knowledge to start the process of getting on a transplant list, obtaining insurance and affording medications.
“Why can’t we figure out a way to pay for the medicines through the tribe, that helps a little but, that takes a little bit burden of money off where they could as family maybe raise the money to pay for the insurance? Dialysis isn’t a death wish,” she said. “My goal is to really see about how we can improve the quality of living on dialysis.”