Keene States Bleam Walking for a Cause
KEENE, N.H. 9/18/08 - Walking used to be a major ordeal for Nancy Bleam. A member of the athletic training staff for the past 12 years at Keen State, Bleam readily recalls a time a few years back, when unable to breathe, she had to stop three times walking down Appian Way, the College's main thorough fare.
Bleam has no problems walking these days. In fact, she plans to be front-and center on Sunday in Middlebury, Vt. for one of the most important walks of her life- the Walk for a Cure - a fund raiser for polycystic kidney disease (PKD).
Bleam will be among thousands of people who will take part in the three-mile walk that will begin simultaneously at noon at 23 sites around the country. Wearing t-shirts they say "survivor or fighter," participants will begin their route by walking through a field of flowers, bought in honor of or in memory of someone who has died from the disease that destroys working kidney tissue.
"I'm really excited," said Bleam, a native of Adrian, Michigan. "I'm so glad that I'm alive, so I can walk."
Working at a job where she teaches athletic training classes and helps over 300 student athletes recover and recuperate from injuries on a daily basis, Bleam began experiencing major health issues in 2006, when her kidney functioning numbers started decreasing signaling a rise in the level of impurities in her blood.
Bleam was diagnosed with PKD 25 years ago. It's the same disease that caused the death of her mother Evelyn Berry Bleam in 1986 and has been found in her younger sister Monica Roney and nephew Justin, who live in St. Joseph's Michigan. According to Bleam, the disease is 50 % heredity and doesn't discriminate by gender.
In a job where flexible hands and feet are essential, Bleam had been surviving on blood pressure medicine and a high tolerance for pain. Her feet and arms ballooned from the swelling. Daily activities such as bending over and stretching caused excruciating discomfort and the persistent pressing on her diaphragm had her unable to properly digest food and gasping for air.
When once-a-week iron shots didn't slow down or stabilize the disease, Bleam began dialysis - 25 years before she planned.
One of the reasons why Bleam decided on the job at Keene State was the proximity of a dialysis clinic in the city. "When I drove into town, I remember seeing the sign for the center and thinking when I'm 65 or 70 years old, I won't have to drive so far," she said.
Still maintaining her busy work schedule, Bleam started dialysis in early April of 2007. Three times a week, the once energetic Bleam was confined to a chair for a four-hour period to complete the treatment. Surrounded by patients much older, Bleam, 50, passed the time watching movies on a miniature video player. "Netflix didn't make any money on me," said Bleam, who viewed six movies a week.
Except for confiding in KSC basketball coach Rob Colbert and Keri Lafond, a member of the KSC athletic training staff, Bleam told no one of her health problems. "I felt it was personal," she said. "I didn't want people to look at me like I was broken, because deep inside, I felt broken."
Bleam remained on dialysis until the end of the school year and had both of her kidneys removed in July 2007 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Kidney's are typically the size of a fist and weigh about six ounces. Bleam's were the size of footballs and weighed 12 pounds each. "I lost 24 pounds after surgery", she said.
Accepted into a transplant program, Bleam carried around a beeper, waiting for call that never came. Bleam's prayer for a miracle were answered when her cousin Jenny (Leftwich), who lives in Hannibal, Mo., was determined to be not only a match, but a match equal to having a donation from a sister. Leftwich, the wife of a Missouri state trooper, mother of three, and a special education teacher, traveled to New Hampshire to give the gift of life.
On August 7, 2007, doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock transplanted Jenny's left kidney into Bleam. The new kidney gave Bleam a new lease on life. "I went from dying to completely new," Bleam said. "She's 10 years younger than me, so I got a good deal. "It's a gift I intend to keep."
After taking some time off to build up her immune system and her strength, Bleam returned to full-time work in October. She could now concentrate on the health issues of KSC athletes, instead of her own.
Bleam, who calls athletic training her passions, says she literally grew up in a training room. Her father Don worked for the Detroit Lions, Baltimore Bullets, and the University of Michigan before moving back to his hometown and working as the athletic trainer at Adrian High School.
Bleam can now walk as fast as she wants and no longer gets winded or feels pain when stretching Keene State athletes. She has no dietary restrictions and except for few anti-rejection pills and a need to take a flu shot once a year is back to living as normal of life as can be expected, given her life-changing experience.
Little things are no longer taken for granted by Bleam. "This means so much to me," she said about Sunday's walk. "I've never been able to do it. It's been so long since I've been able to breathe and walk."