A Second Chance at Life: A Mother’s Hero


Any parent knows when it comes to their kids, there isn’t anything they wouldn’t do to keep them healthy and safe. But what if the situation was reversed and the parent was the one in need of assistance?

Would the children you spent what seems like a lifetime raising make the decision to put their own needs second—even if it meant risking their health or their very life?

One young man did.

Jill Ellison-Quarles has 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 continued on peritoneal dialysis for nearly five years, and although there were no needles involved in the process, she was required to have a catheter inserted into her stomach. Each night she would dutifully hook up to a machine so the poisons could be flushed out of her body. Jill continued with her daily activities, even continued at her job working as a hairstylist for Za Levar’s, A Touch by God with her sister Sandra.

“I started back working,” Jill said, “and I could still have some normalcy of life.”

Jill & her son Willie

Jill & her son Willie

And after her middle child, Willie, went off to Orlando to pursue his dream of becoming a Master Chef, Jill, still on dialysis, continued to work, providing for Willie’s room and board and the necessary items he needed to live. She even began paying down some of Willie’s school loans while he was at the trade school, so that when he graduated he wouldn’t have such a huge burden to bear financially.

Overtime however, the home dialysis began to cause problems.  “I kept getting hernias,” Jill said, and so with her older son, Lindsey, already in college, Jill decided she needed a different form of treatment.

Instead she opted for hemodialysis, a more invasive approach in which Jill painstakingly endured the tedium of being poked with needles and hooked up to a machine that filtered the pulled blood from her body while pushing the clean blood back in for nearly two years. And she did this three times a week, at a local dialysis center, each session lasting anywhere between two to four hours.

“I did not like it,” she summed up.

But Jill did it without complaint so she could be around to take care of her three children who although older, her youngest still 16, they still relied on their mother for love, guidance and support. With the hemodialysis lasting between two and four hours each visit and the physical burden it placed on Jill, she was unable to work. But emotionally she kept chugging along for her children.

But it was a recent sickness that landed Jill in the hospital that got her sons to really take notice. Without her knowledge, the eldest son Lindsey, just 22, contacted LifeLink of Florida, a non-profit organ and tissue recovery organization.

He was tested to see if he was a match. He had planned to donate one of his own kidneys to make his mother’s life easier and improve her overall health.

Unfortunately Lindsey wasn’t a match, but plans were underway for him to “swap” his healthy kidney with that of another donor, thereby ensuring his mother would receive the organ she so desperately needed.

But in the middle of the process, Lindsey’s younger brother Willie was tested and doctors verified his kidney was indeed the match they were looking for.

A few months after his 21st birthday, in May of last year, Willie had to leave school to be evaluated and in November they got the go ahead for surgery. On January 30, the doctors readied young Willie for his four-hour kidney removal.

“I was worried about if I was going to wake up or not,” he confided explaining not knowing what to expect was the biggest fear that he faced.

But just two and half months later, Willie is healthy and wanting to return to school. However, in order to reenroll in the Master Chef Program, Willie has to pay the school some $3,000 to cover the financial aid he lost when he withdrew early to donate his kidney to his mom.

Jill made a vow to do whatever is necessary to get her son back into school, especially after he gave so much without thinking twice. So on May 23 from 7- 9 p.m., Jill, along with family and friends, will be hosting a fashion show at the Pinellas Technical Education Center (PTEC) on the St. Petersburg campus to raise money to send Willie back to school in Orlando.

Various venders will be on hand and there are still booths available for businesses or patrons wishing to sell their creations. Advertising space is also available in the fashion show program. For more information on scheduled events or how you can donate, contact Sandra Williams at 727-637-6640 or Jill Ellison-Quarles 727-614-5316.

All in all, Jill is thankful for her new kidney and new lease on life. Although she will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life, her son Willie gave her the opportunity to have a second chance.

“When I found out I was a match it was a no brainer,” Willie said. “If the tables were turned she would do the same for me. It was my mom and the least that I could do for her.”

And finding a way to get her little man back to school is how Jill hopes to repay a debt that never really can be fulfilled.

Jill & FamilyJill has lived in Florida for nearly 40 years and attended Osceola High School. Her son Willie is currently back home here in St. Petersburg and is working at McDonald’s to save money so he can return to his dream of becoming a Master Chef.

If you wish to help in Willie’s mission, donations are gratefully accepted at www.GoFundMe.com/7euvdo. The family hopes to see you at the PTEC fashion show May 23!

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

One Reply to “A Second Chance at Life: A Mother’s Hero”

  1. This is a heart warming story. Jill has done a wonderful job raising consciously aware young men. I hope that she will enjoy great health and live a long time to see her children reach all their goals. I pass along the event information to my contacts. Good luck.

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