BY MARCY PALMERI, Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG — This past April, The Weekly Challenger brought you the story of Jill Ellison-Quarles, her fight with kidney disease and the extraordinary lengths her family went through to ensure their lives together. We caught up with this tight-knit family to get an update on their story.
Jill had spent nearly 25 years raising her family. A single mom through most of her children’s lives, she knows what it means to sacrifice. And in 2007 when she learned she had renal failure, loss of her kidney function due to hypertension, she took it all in stride.
“I was still a mom,” said Jill who went on peritoneal dialysis, a home filtering treatment, so she could continue to work. “I had to show my kids that yes, mom has a disease, but she’s going to keep going.”
Jill was doing the best she could as a cosmetologist in a salon, while at the same time fighting the disease. She did what she had to do to make ends meet while being there for her kids.
Being a positive, strong woman, she hardly missed a beat, but it was taking a toll on her. Treatment after treatment, test after test, she continued but no longer thrived.
Her sons had taken it upon themselves without notifying their mother to be tested as a possible match to be her organ donor; they wanted to give their mother a new lease on life.
After Lindsay, the eldest son, discovered he wasn’t a match, Willie followed suit. At that time, Willie was attending Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, the world’s largest hospitality education institution, majoring in the Culinary Arts.
“When I found out I was the same blood type I jumped at chance,” Willie said.
Jill’s mom accidentally leaked the information and told her about what the boys were planning, but the mother of three wanted nothing to do with it. However, the last health scare she had was it for them and the kids put their foot down.
On January 30, 2014, Jill Ellison-Quarles had the kidney transplant her son so lovely provided for her. She continues to do well even though in the beginning there was a problem with rejection.
A few months after the operation Willie was ready to return to school, but in order to re-enroll in the Master Chef Program, Willie needed to pay the school $3,000 to cover the financial aid he lost when he withdrew early to donate his kidney to his mom.
The family came up with the idea to have a fashion show fundraiser to help get Willie back in school, and it worked. The community came through and Willie is now back on track and slated to return to his classes at Le Cordon Bleu next Mon., Sept. 29.
Jill found out that it is the little things in life that matter most as she points out that she can now eat and drink whatever she would like. “Everything is different now. My life has completely changed.”
She is enrolled at the University of Phoenix where she will be working toward a bachelor’s degree in small business administration and aspires to help her son with opening a restaurant in Orlando, at some point in the future.
Jill plans to host a fundraiser each year in her son’s honor and will donate the money to one or more kidney related causes. She was alarmed to learn the cost for kidney rejection pills were somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 for one pill and hopes to make the lives of others who are suffering from this disease a little less painful.
This proud mother has three children to stay on this earth for: Lindsay, 23, who is getting ready to graduate from UCF; of course Willie, 22, who gave her life and 16-year-old Rayna who is doing well in high school.
“We’re not perfect, but we’ve always been a real close-knit family. My parents taught us that we may have our fights but before the end of the day, you make up and you’re always a family,” Jill finished.