COMMITTED TO COMMUNITY COVERAGE
The Journal-News is committed to coverage of the local community — from schools and businesses to residents and nonprofit groups. Each Sunday, reporter Rick McCrabb tells the story of the people, places and events that make our community unique.
At the time, all Zee Whitaker wanted was to live 10 more years.
Her son, Lee Whitaker, the youngest of her 13 children, was 8 at the time and a second-grader at Taft Elementary School. She asked God to answer one prayer: Lord, let me see my baby graduate from high school.
That was 25 years ago, and today her son is a Middletown High School and Miami University graduate who works at Taco Bell, interns at TV Middletown and takes courses at the Ohio School of Broadcasting in Cincinnati.
Whitaker remembers the day she looked down at her swollen ankles that resembled elephant legs. She made a doctor’s appointment and he diagnosed either heart or kidney disease. When asked her preference, Whitaker said with a smile: “Neither one.”
She started dialysis treatments on Feb. 13, 1990.
And she’s still going today, three times a week. After 25 years, she is the longest running dialysis patient in Ohio, she said. Her family volunteered to be tested as potential kidney donors, but Whitaker preferred dialysis treatments.
As she told her doctor: “If the machine ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
So every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Whitaker’s son, the same one she wanted to see graduate, drives her to the DaVita Dialysis Center in Middletown. She arrives at 4:30 a.m., is hooked up to the machine at 5 a.m. and is off at 8:15 a.m.
More than three hours a day, nine hours a week, for 25 years as a machine functions as her kidney. That means she has been on dialysis for 11,700 hours, or more than 487 days. Some marriages don’t last that long.
“It’s a way of life that you get used to,” she said.
Raise your hand if you feel sorry for Zee Whitaker.
If anyone has a reason to be bitter, it’s her. Right?
“You have to play the hand you’re dealt,” she said. “Do the best with what you have and God will take care of the rest.”
She’s “truly blessed” to see her son graduate, and all 13 of her children — two biological, 10 stepchildren and one adopted — are alive. Her husband of 25 years, Thomas, a diabetic, died in 2000 because he didn’t follow doctor’s orders, she said.
Whitaker said her son once told her that she loved God more than anything, or anybody. That conversation took place years ago. It still brings a smile to her face.
She attends two church services every Sunday, 8 a.m. at New Era Baptist Church, and two hours later at Mount Zion Baptist Church, where she is a member.
During the last 25 years, Whitaker hasn’t missed a dialysis treatment, nor has she stopped living. She was a Middletown school teacher for 20 years, 19 of those at Taft Elementary School. She retired in 1985, then worked for the American Red Cross, Family Service of Middletown and the Middletown branch of the NAACP.
She also has taken two cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean, thanks to the generosity of High Seas Rally, a motorcycle group that provides trips to dialysis patients.
Now, a couple of days a week, you can find Whitaker volunteering at the We Can Business Incubator Inc. on Central Avenue with Adriane Scherrer. They make quite a pair, these two women from different backgrounds, but who freely speak their minds.
Scherrer calls Whitaker “her buddy.”
Whitaker has a better description: “More like sisters.”
In the spring, they will travel to South Carolina for the wedding of Patrick Kay, former executive director of the Downtown Middletown Inc. They will leave right after her appointment on Friday and be back in Middletown in time for her Monday treatment.
No sense in stopping the streak now.