April 10, 2013

Misty Watson: Needing to return the love

Misty Watson

— There weren’t many people who could get my dad excited about something besides music back when he was a teen in the 1970s. But a couple of teachers were able to reach him, and one of those was Linda Lunsford.

Long before I reached Murray County High School, I’d heard stories about Miss Lunsford. Some teachers become part of their school’s legacy, and she’s one of them.

When I walked into Miss Lunsford’s honors English class my sophomore year in August of 1997, I felt like I already knew her.

I knew she was a musician (though I’m not sure if she appreciated my dad’s affinity for 1970s rock). I knew she expected her students to work hard because she wanted them to reach their full potential. She got to know them and who they were. She knew how to talk to students and relate to them in a way that made you glad to be wading through all the thous and thees that were scattered through Hester Prynne’s struggles, that made you excited to know more about Daisy Buchanan in her white and gold living room.

She encouraged my writing through constructive criticism and reminded me often to “keep it simple.” She got so tired of us not knowing when to use a comma, she gave us a numbered list of comma rules. Every time we wrote anything in her class and wanted to use a comma, we had to put the rule number above it. Fifteen years later, I can still tell you those rules.

I felt so lucky that I had Miss Lunsford, but I figured she could only take so many Watsons over the years and I was her final straw because she retired at the end of my sophomore year after 30 years as a teacher at the high school. She had also attended Murray County High School, graduating in 1964.

Just because she retired doesn’t mean she quit teaching me. I’m blessed to call her a friend as an adult.

I’m sure many of you have similar memories about Miss Lunsford and her kindness, her willingness to help and encourage and support us.

Now she needs us to return the love.

Miss Lunsford was diagnosed with end stage renal disease in April 2012 and has been on dialysis for almost a year. Doctors tried numerous times to make a fistula work for her dialysis, but it would clot. Her only other option was to have a catheter in her neck.

“That’s not a good thing because it goes straight into your heart,” she said during a phone conversation on Monday. “If you get any kind of infection at all, that could be the end of you ... I had not really thought about getting a transplant. I thought I was too old.”

One of Miss Lunsford’s doctors said he thought she was a good candidate. In September she underwent several tests to determine if she was a good candidate for a kidney transplant.

“I was anticipating getting something done pretty soon,” she said.

But she has hit several roadblocks since that time, including the discovery of a nodule on her intestines and a problem with her lungs.

Most importantly, she still needs a willing donor. She also needs to raise at least $10,000 by Dec. 26 of this year, and she needs volunteers to help her with tasks after the transplant. So even if you’re not willing to give her a kidney, you can help her.

The money covers medical costs following the transplant. The first $10,000 raised will be matched by the Georgia Transplant Foundation, Miss Lunsford said. The medicines she’ll need to take can cost $20,000 to $30,000 annually, and insurance only helps cover the cost for the first three years.

“I have been trying to put together a committee of people to help me out,” she said. “I can’t do it all myself ... I will appreciate any and all help that people feel led to lend me. It’s hard to say thank you for something like this. I’m a very independent person, and it’s hard for me to even ask for help, but I have to here because I can’t do it by myself.”

Miss Lunsford has very little family in the area, and some of them are battling their own medical problems.

“It’s hard to tell people what I’m going through,” she said. “I imagine only others with kidney disease can understand. Everyone who talks to me says, ‘You look good.’ Even if I look good, my insides are not in shape. It’s not something you can see. People look at me and think, ‘Well, she doesn’t look sick.’”

She spends three-and-a-half hours three days each week in dialysis.

“I come home and pretty much sit down in my recliner and go to sleep,” Miss Lunsford said. “That’s about all the energy I have, especially if I have to do something else like go to the grocery store.”

Miss Lunsford had plans to travel during her retirement, but a back problem combined with the renal disease stopped those plans. She spent eight years teaching after retirement, as a substitute, at Phoenix High School and Dalton State College. (She had taught through Reinhardt University for approximately 10 years while teaching high school.)

“My health in general hasn’t been very good for the last 12 years, but this has put a cramp in my style,” Miss Lunsford said. “It has pretty much stopped my social life, my travel, my church going ... I had a lot of trouble with depression, of course. The hardest thing for me is not being able to travel because I love that.”

I’ve agreed to help Miss Lunsford in any way I’m able, and I know many of her other former students and colleagues have, too. Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money to raise in eight months, but it can be done.

To donate money, go to the website client.gatransplant.org and search for Linda Lunsford. To help with fundraising campaigns or events or to volunteer to help with errands after the transplant, you can contact me through email, mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com, or friend me on Facebook at facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. She prays Miss Lunsford receives the help she needs.