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A Go West Mom You Should Know: Nurse and Organ Donor Merri Lazenby

This week is National Nurses Week (May 12 is Florence Nightingale’s birthday) and as luck would have it, our latest Go West Mom You Should Know is a nurse!

Merri Lazenby, 38, lives in St. Charles with her husband Wedge (as she quickly points out -- yes, that’s his real name) and their children: 10-year-old Wedge Jr., 5-year-old Jesse and 4-year-old Sidney.

Merri Lazenby pictured with her husband Wedge and children Wedge Jr. (10), Jesse (5), and Sidney (4). Photo provided.Lazenby is the clinical supervisor at Delnor Express Care centers in South Elgin and Batavia. Yes, Delnor Express Care is now a sponsor of Go West, but you’ll have to trust us the decision to feature Lazenby as a Mom You Should Know was made before that partnership occurred. And here’s why …

In addition to being a registered nurse, Lazenby is also a runner (she ran in her first marathon last fall) and a mother to an adopted child, who was abandoned in a Melrose Park backyard. She and her husband have been foster parents, and their oldest son copes with hearing loss.

You might have even spotted Lazenby last fall on billboards promoting the Chicago Marathon. She ran for Cal’s Angels, which provides support to kids fighting cancer and their families – a decision made after the young son of a co-worker was diagnosed with cancer.

Perhaps most unique, Lazenby is an organ donor. She donated her kidney in 2009 to a security guard at Delnor Hospital – when she started to fill out the paperwork, she didn’t even know his last name!

Lazenby grew up in East Peoria and moved to the Chicago suburbs when she was in the 7th grade. She received her BSN in nursing from Loyola University Chicago.

Read on to find out why we think Lazenby is a Go West Mom You Should Know.

Q. Can you tell me about your decision to donate a kidney to Delnor security guard Ray Andrade? What motivated you to donate an organ to someone you really did not know very well?

A. I was having lunch with a friend in the cafeteria at Delnor when I overheard a conversation my friend was having with Ray about his sister not being a match.  In my usual fashion I butted into the conversation and asked what kind of match he was looking for. 

When he told me he needed a kidney it was one of those moments when God just takes over and speaks for you. I told him God gave me two kidneys and I would share. Just like that.  I put no forethought into the offer ...  I think Ray just thought I was being nice and wasn't serious, which gave me time to think about the crazy offer. 

That night my husband and I were fixing dinner together, and he asked me how my day went.  I was a little afraid to tell him but casually mentioned I offered my kidney to someone at work. He laughed telling me it would be my luck to be a match. I waited a couple of weeks and went back to Ray.  I told him that I was serious about the kidney – a week later a packet came in the mail from Northwestern's transplant unit. The rest just kind of fell into place.  When I filled out the paperwork I didn't even know Ray's last name. I did a lot of research before I went back to him and realized we really don't need both kidneys to function normally, which made the decision to go through with it much easier.                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Q. How did the procedure go, and did you recover quickly?

A. I was pretty nervous going in and I remember vividly waking up in the recovery room in quite a bit of pain. …  After finding the medication that really worked for my pain control things went pretty smoothly.  I was out of the hospital the next day and was back to walking on the treadmill a week later. The recovery was slow, much slower than I hoped.  I had run a 1/2 marathon a couple of months prior to the surgery and ran my last 5K the weekend before the surgery, so I expected to bounce right back. It took me the better part of a month before I was ready to try running again and (the hardest part) was that I couldn't lift my children for about six weeks.  I was back to my normal self and back to work six weeks after the surgery.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about your three children?

Wedge Jr. is 10 years old. He loves to snowboard, play lacrosse and basketball. 

Jesse is 5 years old. He loves rock ‘n’ roll and gymnastics and is our angel. He was an abandoned baby found on December 13th in a snow-covered backyard in Melrose Park. We picked him up when he was 3 days old and I remind him daily that I grew him in my heart instead of my tummy. 

He is silly, making us belly laugh every day, is short tempered when trying new things, is an answer to our prayers for more children and proof miracles exist.  He is working on his fifth of nine lives (survived his period in utero, his delivery, his abandonment, and a case of RSV that left him on a ventilator for several days) and tackles every day with everything he's got.  He is his sister's best friend (when they aren't fighting) and gets himself and his sister into mischief every day. He has an ear for music and sings along with everything from Bon Jovi to Pink to Third Day. I can see him getting a set of drums in his future.

Sidney is 4 and the princess of the family.  She loves soccer and preschool and was a surprise answer to our prayers after multiple miscarriages and a decision to stop trying -- proof God has a sense of humor. She's bossy and stubborn but so loving and sweet (when she wants to be).  She's a heck of a soccer player and likes to hang with the boys but is a girly girl through and through, wearing pink every chance she can and talks me into painting her nails often.

Q. What motivated you to run the Chicago Marathon this past October? I know it was your first marathon, but had you always enjoyed running in the past? 

A. Running the marathon was the culmination of a progressive addiction to running.  Four years prior to running the marathon, I trained for a 5K, the next year I trained for and ran a 10K, the next year was a half-marathon.  After I ran the half I told my husband I was happy and that 13.1 was plenty far to run.  The next year a friend in our neighborhood signed up for the marathon and put the bug in my ear.  I jumped!

Q. How did the marathon go? Will you ever do another one?

A. The marathon was tough!  It was unusually warm on the marathon day and I had followed a plan to stay hydrated (to keep the kidney healthy).  I actually think I overhydrated going into the marathon and spent almost 20 minutes stopping to pee.  My hands swelled up so much I couldn't open a bottle of Gatorade at the finish line.  I hit a wall at mile 25 where I almost walked off the course.  The only things keeping me from quitting was the fact that each mile on the course was dedicated to a specific person and I couldn't not run my final mile (that was for my family ...  a coming home sort of thing), the weight of the marathon “10-10-10” campaign on my shoulders, my neighbor who came alongside me and coached me through the wall, and my commitment to my friends and family who donated money to Cal's.  I didn't want to let anyone down.  I came off the course promising my husband I would never run another one. Now several months later after giving my toenails a chance to grow back?  I'm thinking maybe next year I'll run the Fox Valley Marathon.

Q. Can you talk about your son Wedge Jr.’s hearing loss?

A. He is mature beyond his age and is a sensitive and loving child.  He has had to understand some difficult things at an early age. His hearing loss was diagnosed at the age of 3, and I remember him walking around the audiologist's office tapping on things after he tried on a hearing aid.  I was upset he was being distracting but was told to watch closely: He was hearing for the first time. 

On the ride home with a loaner pair of hearing aides in his ears he was surprised that you could hear the tires on the road while we drove and laughed hysterically at the sound of geese flying overhead telling me he never knew they made that sound.  That night we went out to dinner with my father-in-law and Jr. was overcome with sadness and frustration at how loud a restaurant can be. In an effort to take him out of the noise I took him for a walk in downtown St. Charles while dad and grandpa finished dinner. He was again overwhelmed by the sound of a fire truck going by. With tears streaming down his face, I had to explain why he can't hear like other kids and why he needed these hearing aides.  Life's not fair but that God’s plan is perfect (but not always easy to understand right away).

A few years down the road he tried to comfort me as we lost another pregnancy, telling me life's not fair but that God's plan is perfect.  He's been a role model and loving brother to his sister and brother (and any foster children along the way) never blinking an eye or asking questions when a new unannounced face appears at the breakfast table when he wakes up. 

Q. What was behind your decision to adopt Jesse?

A. Adoption has been such a blessing for us. We built a home in St. Charles with the intention of filling it with children but suffered a period of not getting pregnant followed by multiple miscarriages.  We talked about adoption and decided foster care was right for us. We went through PRIDE with an agency in Wheaton and planned on filling our home with kids until we could have our own. Our first placement was Jesse, and we knew when we agreed to foster him the plan would be to adopt. 

Wedge Sr. called me at work and asked if we could take a newborn baby for adoption. We were actually pregnant at the time but after such a long wait for a child we jumped. We had just a couple of days to prepare (although our nursery had been set up and empty since moving in two years prior) for his homecoming.  We was just over 4 pounds when we picked him up (Wedge Jr. was 10 pounds at birth!) so we had to go buy preemie clothes, diapers, and for the first time bottles and formula (no nursing this one!) 

It was a whirlwind of emotion for us.  We have a picture of Wedge Jr. peering into the crib at the hospital the day we picked him up.  His face was shining with pure joy, something we all felt.  We know that there are some things down the road we will have to deal with, such as Jesse asking about his birth mom (we have a box of every piece of paper we got from the courts and DCFS and will let him read it when he's ready), about why he's got a different skin color (even Sidney asked last week why he's "browner" than her). We don't know his family health history so we don't know what he's (medically) at risk for. 

Q. Do you have any suggestions for families who are considering adoption?

A. For families that are considering adoption my advice is to communicate well with your spouse (and other children in the house) the prospect of adoption. There are many ways to approach adoption (foster care, open and closed adoptions, local and international adoption) and each come with their own positives and negatives.  Having everyone in the home on board with the terms and means of the adoption will help the process. (For instance, if you are looking at international adoption and have other children in the home what happens to them when you go to pick the child up? Sometimes you have to be there for weeks).  Adoption is a beautiful thing, a fulfillment of God’s desire for us to care for the orphans.  I've learned along the way it's not easy but so worth it.

Q. Can you describe your parenting style?

A. Authoritative. I expect a lot out of my children and have clear rules but give them leeway on how they approach my expectations.  Although it kills me, I let them make their own mistakes but require them to be held accountable for their actions and decisions.  I love them thoroughly and make sure they know that. 

I'm loving and a nurturer but not a micro-manager or helicopter parent (My husband has taught me this and I actually have to work at this one!)  I am a perfectionist and forget sometimes they are still learning how to do things. I'm not perfect (not even close) and am as forgiving of their mistakes as they are of mine.

Go West readers: Do you know of a mom or dad we should profile here? Please let us know

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