Lee shares struggles with chronic pain, kidney failure and recovery

Published 10:00 am Saturday, March 30, 2024

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Everyone in the Downtown LaGrange business community knows Sandy Lee, but some may be unaware of the health issues she has struggled with over the last year. The one-time general manager of the Marriott on the Square was diagnosed with kidney failure last year.

Lee recently shared some of her struggles dealing with the disease, the triumphs of a partial recovery, as well as the pains of ongoing dialysis.

Lee said she began noticing something was wrong when she had some unexpected falls.

“Last year, I guess around this time of the year, I was headed to a Chamber [of Commerce] function and I just randomly fell on the steps,” Lee said, noting she didn’t think much of it at the time. “But then I started having leg pains, knee pains and wasn’t able to walk the way I felt. I attributed everything to the fall.”

She said the leg pain continued and eventually her face started swelling, which she attributed to pollen allergies. It wasn’t until she fell again in the hotel parking lot that she realized something was wrong. Things came to a head when Lee got severely sick coming back from a road trip to Tennessee.

“We stopped at Piedmont on the way back and that’s when I found out that I had heart failure and kidney failure. My thyroid was going berserk and my hemoglobin was way low, which meant I had no blood in my system. It was a mess,” Lee said.

Lee said when she finally came to, doctors told her the problem was her kidneys, which had caused fluids to build up in her legs.

“Looking back at pictures, I could see all the fluid but I thought it was the allergies. I thought it was weight gain. I couldn’t lose weight. You can’t lose that weight because it’s fluid, “ she said. “When I went into the hospital I was 178-180 [pounds]. By the time they took the fluid off, I was down to 120.”

“I could not figure out why I couldn’t lose weight.  I tell people all the time don’t ignore the signs. I can’t say that I was ignoring them but I gave it a reason,” Lee said.

Lee attributes the kidney failure to the overuse of ibuprofen. She had been taking multiple doses of ibuprofen, nearly daily, for years due to back pain from a tumor she had years ago.

“I used to have a 10-pound tumor and it had left its damage on my body,” Lee said, saying the tumor caused years of chronic back pain.

Lee said she never realized how much damage the ibuprofen was doing to her body.

“You don’t think it’s an addiction. I’m not a pill popper or anything but too much is too much. It will have an effect on your body,” Lee said. “It takes a toll on your body. It takes a toll on your kidneys.”

Because of the excess fluid on her legs, Lee couldn’t walk and was bound to a wheelchair. Doctors told her that she would need physical therapy to walk again but she didn’t think she could go through with it. Eventually, she forced herself to get up from her hospital bed to go to the bathroom and shower with her mom’s help. That inspired her to begin doing leg exercises in bed and eventually be able to walk again.

“I thought, okay, this is progress, so I would do leg exercises in the bed. I just tried it because you’re not going to leave me in this hospital bed,” she said.

At some point, Sandy began to be able to walk in little spurts on her own and was ultimately able to leave the hospital on her own two feet.

“I’m fully rehabilitated now. I was using the cane when I first got out for a little stability, but now that’s in the hallway of my house. We don’t even touch it,” Lee said.

Sandy is back from the hospital, fully walking and working at the Marriott as director of sales, but kidney failure has introduced a new part of her life, dialysis. She currently has to take three hours of dialysis, three times a week.

“It’s not pleasant but I’m living,” Lee said.

Lee said she thinks of the community and boards and events she is involved with a gets inspired by life.

“You get excited about life. My model for my life is I live to serve and I serve to help others live,” she said.

Lee said one of the reasons she wanted to share her story is to thank everyone from the community who supported her through her recovery.

To give back she said she is planning a Glitz and Glam pageant later this year on Dec. 1 for kids from five to 15 years old. Proceeds from the event will go to the National Kidney Foundation.

Lee said the next step for her health is to speak with her doctor to begin a referral process for seeking a new kidney.

“The one thing I learned is, you’ve got to learn how to take care of yourself,” Lee said. “I joined the gym. I work out a few times a week now. I’ve started to eat more. Everything’s getting better. I still have to live with the dialysis but I can’t let that control my whole life. I can control the controllables,” Lee said, noting she’s also off the ibuprofen, cold turkey.

“I love and appreciate life so much more now,” she said. “It definitely gave me a whole new appreciation for life.”