Amanda McCullough is lead laboratory technologist at UMMC Grenada.
Amanda McCullough is lead laboratory technologist at UMMC Grenada.
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People of the U: Amanda McCullough

Published on Thursday, April 15, 2021

By: Ruth Cummins

Editor's Note: Front and Center is part of an ongoing series featuring UMMC's faculty, staff and students. See more Front and Center features.

As a progressive disorder dropped her kidneys to 50 percent of their function, Amanda McCullough knew two years ago she would eventually get on a transplant list, but that her kidneys would continue to deteriorate as she waited the average three to five years for a new organ.

Diagnosed in 2013 with Berger's disease, which occurs when antibodies called IgA build up in the kidneys, causing inflammation that damages the tissues, McCullough’s nephrologist told her that “it’s normally a slow, progressive disease, and that I might die of old age before (dying of) the disease,” she said.

“But I don’t do anything halfway,” said McCullough, lead laboratory technologist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Grenada. “Of course, I did the aggressive progression.”

Her blood pressure spiked, and with that came headaches. The mom of three began 11-hour-a-day dialysis in July 2020 that robbed her of her ability to work and to spend the time she wanted with her family and friends.

Approved for a transplant in September 2020, McCullough had no idea the usual timeline would go out the window. She got the call just 26 days later: We have a kidney for you. How fast can you get to UMMC’s main campus in Jackson?

Her new kidney was placed into her abdomen Oct. 27 by Dr. Praise Matemavi, assistant professor of transplant surgery. “I didn’t even know how bad I had been feeling until I had my transplant,” McCullough said. “I got home Oct. 30. I feel great, and I’m back at the job I love. It’s been an amazing journey.”

Employees at UMMC Grenada painted dozens of rocks in bright colors to celebrate Donate Life Month.
Employees at UMMC Grenada painted dozens of rocks in bright colors to celebrate Donate Life Month.

This month not only marks her six-month anniversary with her new kidney, but it’s doubly special. April is national Donate Life Month, a time to encourage registration as an organ, eye and tissue donor and to honor those who gave someone else life through their gift of donation.

“Amanda is a brilliant, hard-working employee that continued to press forward during her pre-transplant stage because she loves her work and believes in miracles,” said Tara Eldridge, chief medical technologist and McCullough’s supervisor. “Amanda is such an asset to our laboratory team in Grenada and a representative for our organization as a whole.” 

McCullough has worked in a laboratory since she was 26.”It’s a career I love,” she said. Although she’s worked several places, it all started at the Grenada hospital in the mid-1990s after McCullough finished school.

She and her fellow technologists perform diagnostic testing of all blood and body fluids.  They cross-match and transfuse blood and blood products to critically ill patients and perform microscopic examinations of blood smears that aid in the diagnosis of blood disorders and cancers.

They also operate and maintain many automated instruments that perform all laboratory testing. 

Getting a large part of her care at her workplace, close to her home in Coffeeville, means the world to McCullough.

“For everything done pre-transplant, I never went to Jackson,” she said. “All of my bloodwork, all of my pre-transplant education classes, all of that was in the clinic at Grenada. It was so nice and convenient.

“Even post-transplant, I see one of the University Transplant doctors once a month in Grenada. Me being in the lab here, I’ve seen the transplant clinic bloodwork. It’s so much better for patients to do that here, even if they have to travel a little bit.”

After McCullough’s kidney disease progressed, “she came to me to ask about how our program works, and how she could go about getting a transplant,” Crawford said. “I went over the details with her. Her body mass index was too high for her to be transplanted at the time.

“I really felt the need for her to see Dr. Matemavi to help her be motivated to lose weight, and she did.”

McCullough lost 90 pounds, in large part through intermittent fasting supervised by her medical team.

McCullough’s antibody level was so high, and with her blood type of O-negative, only 7-8 percent of donor kidneys would be a match for her.  “But due to the miracle of organ donation, she had a perfect match after only 26 days on the national wait list,” Crawford said.

When she was wheeled into surgery the night of her transplant, McCullough said, “Dr. Matemavi had my new kidney on ice. She said, ‘Do you want to see it? It’s so beautiful.’ And it was. I got to see it, and that was so cool.”

“It has been an eye-opening experience to work side by side with someone who was given new life because of organ donation,” Eldridge said. “She is such a testament to the program at UMMC and loves to share her experience with the numerous patients that have the same journey ahead of them.”

McCullough will continue to receive many of her follow-up lab work services and see transplant physicians in Grenada, said Mallory Lester, her abdominal transplant coordinator at the Grenada hospital.

It took someone losing a loved one for her to receive a kidney, said McCullough, who turned 47 the week before her transplant. “I’ve prayed for them since I received the call. They were willing to give me life. That’s so important.

“I would love to meet them one day.”

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