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"Reaping God's Blessing"

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"Reaping God's Blessing"

Posted on Thu, Apr 17, 2008

The Testimony of Meredith Sullivan - written by Rachel Edwards


Rachel W. Edwards

Meredith Sullivan, who suffered from lymphoma and leukemia as a child, is looking forward to graduating from college this year. To look at Meredith now, one would never believe how sick she was. Her beautiful long hair was once non-existent due to huge doses of chemotherapy and radiation.

When Meredith was eight years old, she loved to play outside and climb trees. One day her hip started hurting. Her parents thought at first that she might have injured it playing, but the pain got worse. After going to two doctors, who could find nothing wrong, she was taken to a doctor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After performing a biopsy, the doctor there diagnosed her with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She underwent six months of chemotherapy and went into remission.

About a year later, the disease came back. This time the doctors harvested her own stem cells and returned them to her in the form of an IV. She was beginning to lose her hair, and two ladies from the hospital went to her classroom at school to talk to her classmates. The students decided to wear hats in support of Meredith, so that she would not feel conspicuous.The school even bent the rules in the chapel and let all the girls continue to wear their hats during the services.

Since Meredith’s immune system was weakened by the disease, and she was undergoing treatment, she stayed out of school. Her paternal grandmother stayed with her during this time, and she gave Meredith a bell to ring if she needed anything. “It was such a blessing,” said Meredith, “for my grandmother to be so close by.”

About three years later, when Meredith was thirteen years old, the disease returned. By this time she had switched schools and was playing soccer. The symptoms were different. Her gums were bleeding, and she had bruises on her legs and feet. She was tired all the time.

Again she went to Chapel Hill and consulted a doctor there. The new diagnosis was a cross between lymphoma and leukemia. After the chemo and radiation that followed, she was required to have a bone marrow transplant. At first each immediate family member was checked for a possible match, and her father matched the closest. Even he, however, was not a perfect match.

Meredith’s church, New Hope Missionary Baptist, began organizing a community-wide bone marrow registration. It was one of the largest ever done in the state. Several fundraising projects were initiated, and donation jars were placed all over town to generate funds for the transplant. The church also held auctions, raffles, and barbecues to help finance the project.

In the meantime, Meredith was taking chemo and radiation once a month for three months. “I was sick to my stomach,” she said. “It didn’t feel good at all. It made me very tired. I didn’t have a lot of energy.” As a result, she had to stay home from school.

At last she received the good news. “They had found a perfect match in Germany from the bone marrow registry, which was another answer to prayer,” she said. “I knew in my heart others were praying for me and my family,” Meredith said. “Faith in God got us through that difficult period.”

The chemo and radiation had wiped out her diseased bone marrow, but it was replaced in the transplant process with a transfusion that lasted about two hours. God’s care and guidance, and the prayer and concern of her church family were important factors in her improvement.

Meredith had to have special treatment during the transplant period. A week or two prior to the transplant, she had to have more radiation. “I tried to live as normally as I could,” she said. “Having friends, family, and church praying for me really helped.” Meredith could not eat fresh vegetables, fruits, or ground pepper because of the possible contamination in them. “People had to wash their hands, arms, and fingernails to see me,” she recalled. The chemo caused ulcers in her mouth, making it hard to eat or drink.

“The nurses were excellent,” she said. “One nurse was always upbeat. She would play with me and have conversations with me.” Meredith missed out on being carefree, having hair, and being at school with her friends. Those special people kept in touch, however. They called, sent cards, and even visited. People from all over the community were praying for Meredith. “Knowing that was a great comfort to me and my family,” she said.

Meredith still kept up with her schoolwork during her illness. Teachers at the hospital helped her with the work her school sent. The hospital had a student learning center set up for patients to do their work and receive help.

As time passed, Meredith began to improve. She had more energy, and could soon go home. Unfortunately, one night, while she and her father were watching television, Meredith began to be short of breath. She was found to have a pulmonary hemorrhage. The doctors sent her to ICU and induced a coma. They did not want her to be active until she was stabilized. Then they put her on an oscillator, rather than a ventilator, which would allow her lungs to heal properly. After eight days, however, Meredith showed little signs of improvement, and the doctors told her parents that they would soon have to make a decision.

Meredith’s parents, Tommy and Jean Sullivan, were staying in a hospital hotel room. While Meredith’s dad remained by her side, her mom went up to the room to pray. She prayed, “If it be Your will, God, please heal her.” Her mother had a vision of an angel carrying her child to God. God told the angel to turn around. It was not Meredith’s time. The angel turned around.

Meredith’s mother told her husband what she had witnessed, and he also prayed that the Lord’s will be done. “Within twenty-four hours,” said Meredith, “my numbers started improving, and I came out of the coma. The nurse told me what day it was.”

After Meredith was out of the hospital, her parents told her that she had been in a coma. “I was so shocked,” she said, “that it brought tears to my eyes.” They told her that she had been in ICU for two weeks. She had been given so much morphine that she was hot one minute and cold the next. They had given her one of the largest doses of steroids ever given any patient. “While in the coma,” they told me, “I had blown up like a balloon from the steroids. There were tubes in my nose and throat while on the ventilator, and I was moved back to the transplant unit. I also got shingles during this time,” she said.

Even though Meredith was out of the hospital, she still had to remain within thirty minutes of the facility. Fortunately, for Meredith and her family, her biology teacher’s mother-in-law had lived in a house in Durham, North Carolina. The house was empty and available for free to the Sullivan family. She and her parents lived there while Meredith was under treatment, and her parents alternated days of returning to work. Their employers were extremely considerate.

Meredith remembered how special her sister, Amy, had been to her through her illness. “She would make me laugh,” she said. “We would always have a good time.” Meredith is proud of her sister, who is now a dentist.

“The illness made my faith real and showed what a loving God we have,” said Meredith. “It showed me how much He cares for us, and made me realize the kind of God I serve. I ask others if they are saved and if they have God in their lives. I tell them that I have been there, and some days you wonder why, but I remind them not to let it get them down, because they will be stronger in the end.”

This year, in July, it will be nine years since Meredith had lymphoma and leukemia. She is in good health, and she returns for yearly checkups. She has a full mane of beautiful long hair, which will flow from her college graduation cap as she walks across the stage at the North Carolina State University Commencement services on May 10, 2008. She will receive a double degree in Political Science and Public Relations.
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