By Alena Talbot
News Team Correspondent Alena Talbot spoke with beloved 103.3 Asheville FM DJ, Michele Souma Scheve, about her experience with a kidney transplant, healthcare, and support during the pandemic.
Scheve who is one of the co-hosts for the Asheville FM show Slumber Party has dealt with health-related issues that mounted in severity over the last few years. “It was kind of a progressive thing. First of all, I’m a Type 1 diabetic, and I have been since I was a teenager. When I had my daughter, I started having complications when I was six months pregnant,” she said.
Scheve was diagnosed with a rare brain condition called moyamoya disease and had to undergo an emergency C-section at six months. “Moyamoya was causing me to have strokes and seizures,” she said. “My daughter was a pound and half when she was born.”
Moyamoya disease is a rare blood vessel disorder in which the carotid artery in the skull becomes blocked or narrowed, reducing blood flow to the brain. Tiny blood vessels open up at the base of the brain in an attempt to supply it with blood.
After having her baby, Scheve went to California for medical treatment. Unfortunately, the dyes used in certain scans caused a reaction that led to kidney damage.
“The damage just became more serious as the years progressed. Around 2014, I was diagnosed with onstage renal failure, which means your kidneys totally don’t work,” she said. She had to go on a dialysis treatment in order to stay alive after the diagnosis. Until she could get a kidney transplant, she was completely dependent on dialysis.
To cope with the anxiety of waiting for a transplant, Scheve focused her energy on comedy and radio. “I’ve always loved radio and been involved with it for years in some form. I started my shows prior to getting sick, but it was really important for me to keep doing the things I loved,” she said.
Scheve had issues with pain that made working on her programming increasingly difficult. When she felt like she was getting worse, she found people who would support her shows even if she was not there. “It wasn’t specifically radio or comedy that I wanted to give up; it was just feeling like giving up altogether that I was trying to avoid,” she said.
Scheve had been on a waiting list to get a deceased person’s organ but had never found a blood type match that would work. She was waitlisted at Emory Hospital in Atlanta and Wake Forest Hospital in Winston-Salem.
“I was on dialysis for five years, and then a friend I had not spoken to in over 30 years contacted me and said she wanted to give me one of her kidneys,” she said. That friend, Marie Lacy, was a universal donor, which made the match possible.
At first, she didn’t accept the offer. “I told her, ‘Oh no; it’s okay.’ I was trying to help other people. Then I started getting sicker. I was having problems with the dialysis and I realized that if I didn’t get a kidney soon, I wouldn’t be healthy enough to get one later. Marie came along at the right time,” Scheve said. “I consider her a sister from now on. We talk every few days.”
The kidney transplant surgery was initially scheduled for late March 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought mounting anxieties and hospitals were overwhelmed. Scheve and Lacy were forced to reschedule. “I just kept waiting for the doctors until when we finally got the approval for surgery in November,” Scheve said.
After getting a transplant, a patient must take immunosuppressive medications to keep the donated organ from being rejected, and these medicines make a patient susceptible to infections, even the common cold, according to Scheve. “In this situation, something like COVID-19 is really scary, and I’m still dealing with that now,” she said.
The kidney transplant happened last November at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
Scheve is still on immunosuppressives and will be for the rest of her life. “I started off taking 40 pills a day, and now I’m down to 20. For the rest of my life, I’ll have a handful of pills I’ll take every day,” she said.
Despite this, she feels very optimistic. “It’s really kind of cool because I would be in quarantine anyway because of the high rate of infections and the risk from an organ transplant. So now it’s kind of like the whole world is quarantined with me, and that way I feel less lonely,” she said.
Scheve continues to work from her home studio on her comedy programming for Slice of Life comedy, Slumber Party and her DJ contributions to Asheville FM. “It’s so nice to do what I love from a safe environment,” she said.
You can hear Scheve on Asheville FM on Wednesdays from 5-6pm on her show, Slumber Party. A variety talk show with co-hosts Jake Frankel and Ali McGhee. Topics include entertainment, current events, the Asheville community, and more.
Listen to the full interview below: