Devon Carver easily blends in with her fellow FishHawk Ranch mothers, rushing to pick up kids from school in between visiting the grocery store, cleaners and bank before heading home to cook dinner.
Few who don't know her would ever guess her secret.
Carver is dying.
The 34-year-old mother is battling end-stage renal failure. She spends 12 hours a day on dialysis to simply sustain her traitorous kidneys that now refuse to do their job.
And, as she lies in bed, her companion an intrusive machine that removes waste and excess water from her blood, Carver prays for what seems impossible. She needs a live donor, someone in perfect health with a complementary blood type who is willing to undergo surgery and sacrifice a kidney to save Carver's life.
Carver was diagnosed at age 2 with type 1 diabetes. Her body simply refused to produce the insulin hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have type 1, requiring daily doses of insulin along with a strict sugar-free diet.
"Back then, there was no such thing as Equal or Diet Coke," said Carver. "I wasn't able to enjoy the foods the other kids did."
Nevertheless, the Bloomingdale High School graduate was able to manage her illness as she grew older.
But all that changed a few years ago.
Facing Renal Failure
Like many patients with type 1 diabetes, the disease began to take its toll on major organs in her body -- her heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.
"Ultimately, it killed my kidneys so I went on dialysis three years ago," said Carver.
However, doctors quickly discovered Carver was allergic to the traditional hemodialysis used for diabetic patients.
Without a kidney and pancreas transplant, she was given two weeks to live.
Fortunately, as time was running out, she received the kidney and pancreas of a woman about the same age who had died.
"But the kidney never worked right," said Carver. "I was in and out of the hospital so many times, I knew everyone on a first-name basis."
Left with no option, Tampa nephrologist Dr. Christopher McFarren decided to try a less-common kind of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis, in which a port is inserted into the patient's abdomen and fluid is is pumped in and then flushed out.
"The peritoneal dialysis dumps three liters of fluid into my stomach cavity," said Carver. "You look like you're pregnant. It’s agonizing. I do this for 12 hours every night. I’m tethered to my bed with tubes with just enough leeway so I can make it to toilet to throw up."
The primary complication of PD is infection due to the presence of a permanent tube in the abdomen, a complication Carver quickly faced.
"It got infected right away," she said. "I was in the hospital several times, and nearly died."
Doctors concluded her only hope is to find a live donor with 0 negative or 0 positive blood, under age 50 and in excellent health.
"My sister wanted to do it but she's a carrier for type 1 diabetes so she couldn't be a donor," said Carver.
"If I don’t get a living donor, I’m going to die. I can’t wait," she said.
As if that weren't enough to worry about, the Carver family is facing mounting medical bills and other expenses as a result of Carver's disease.
Although the family has health insurance, the medical bills and co-pays for medicines have depleted the family's resources. They were subsequently evicted from their home in Bloomingdale and recently were able to purchase a townhome in FishHawk Ranch with the help of a federal loan.
"We don’t have a funeral fund. My son doesn’t have college fund anymore. We’ve just sucked everything dry with all my expenses," she said.
OperationKidney is Born
While laying in bed one night attached to the dreaded machine, it occurred to Carver that she couldn't remain a victim -- she somehow had to regain control of her life.
"So I decided to start "OperationKidney" to raise funds to help with my medical expenses, donor travel, etc.," she said.
One girl, whose mother is on dialysis, contacted Carver and told her they didn't have a phone to call for medical help and they were sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
"I thought I was in need, then you meet someone else who's far worse off. I decided we had to get them a phone and furnish their place," said Carver. "OperationKidney has become my mission. It's not about me anymore. It's about helping other people who are struggling. I want to pay it forward."
At the same time, Carver is using her platform to encourage organ donation.
"I don’t want anyone to forget about people who die every day because they don’t have an organ," she said. "I want to encourage everyone to donate their organs. When you pass away, you can save the lives of eight other people with your gift of life."
Carver, with the help of her best friend, April Curcio, is now in the process of organizing OperationKidney's first fundraiser, a charity bowl-athon Sunday, Oct. 14 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at The Alley at South Shore, 10221 Big Bend Rd., Riverview.
"It's going to be a fun day with bowling, silent auctions, 50/50 raffles and food," said Carver. The suggested donation is $25 per bowler and $10 for spectators, "but I won't turn anyone away."
Carver is currently seeking sponsors, gift cards, gift certificates, auction baskets and other items for the event.
Anyone wanting to help can contact Carver at 813-917-4418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.