Monday, June 1, 2020
Transplant Survivor Offers a Unique Perspective on the Coronavirus Pandemic
Fred, Renata and Julien Beguin visited Renata's hometown in Switzerland a few years ago.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Editor’s Note: Renata Beguin, a longtime Ketchum resident born in Switzerland, has been forced to stay home away from friends as she guards against contracting the coronavirus several months out from a kidney transplant. It has given her an opportunity to turn inward, an opportunity to remember. And through it she offers this unique perspective that seems very relevant right now.


 It’s bad out there. I haven’t been able to leave my home safely in weeks. After a transplant seven month ago, my new kidney is working great, but the anti-rejection drugs seriously compromise my immune system — if I get this virus now, there’s a good chance I will not survive. It doesn’t help that our small county has more cases per capita of this illness than anywhere else in the country.

 Nothing to do now but stay in and stay busy. So, I started sorting through all the old things: fading pictures, long-forgotten report cards, and hand-written letters. That’s how I came across two pages of yellowing hotel stationery with words written at another dark time in my life:

Sons Andrew and Julien Beguin with Bunjie and Lapoo.

 Hotel Ekkehard, St. Gallen, Switzerland, January 30, 1974

 Loneliness does not mean necessarily that one is alone. On the other hand, if one is lonely and alone then that loneliness stares you in the face like a ghost.

 Especially if you celebrate your 30th birthday alone in a hotel room, facing your dinner, a pitiful looking sausage, in a gray, cold city that you've never seen and you have come to for a sad reason. 

 Exactly 30 years ago to the day, my father beamed down at a soft bundle in his arms, his tiny newborn daughter. He felt such joy and love and made a silent promise that he would always be there for her.

 After two boys, here was a perfect little daughter, born at home on a Sunday morning, while the sound of the nearby church bells echoed from all around the surrounding mountains.

 My mother tells me that I knew from the beginning what I wanted, no one could hold or touch me except my Papa, all others would get very loud protests. 

 Half apologizing with a little proud smile, he told this to everyone while taking me back, where snuggled contentedly in my Papa’s arms, with a last sigh, I would finally stop crying.

 Now I sit here and can’t visit or touch him. I could infect him and he would not survive any such infection. He has terminal leukemia.

 There it is, that word: leukemia. It rings in my ears, the word I don't want to think about. 

I don't want to be brave and grown up, all I want to do is escape back to the time I was swaddled in a warm blanket, safe with my Papa.

 But Im 30 today - grown up, whatever that means.

 I arrived yesterday from New York, through Amsterdam. 

I brought tulips for him — another thing he is not allowed to have.

 Standing in the corridor outside his room, I watch him a long time.

 I can only see him through a thick glass wall, He is asleep, pale, isolated and alone in his sterile room, his arms and hands full of needles, hardly recognizable as my strong and confident father that I have always counted on.

 How well I know these arms. After all, they were my very favorite childhood shelter.  Memories flood back of being carried home asleep many, many times in those arms.

 I’m exhausted, but merciful sleep is not coming tonight. 

 After the doctors at home had given up on him, I begged them to find a place in Switzerland willing to do an experimental treatment I had read about.

 Now he will undergo a bone marrow transplant tomorrow. His sister is giving her bone marrow to him. This is the first time it’s being done in Switzerland and the doctors call my father their guinea pig. The next weeks will determine if he lives or dies.

 If I lost him now, where would I run to for love and safety? These are the very traits that I have associated all my life with my father.

 Not long ago, feeling independent and confident, I could not wait to leave home to find my own way. Yet, here I am terrified at the thought of having to face a world without my Papa in it.

 One day — but please God not yet!

 After six long weeks, we learned that the treatment was successful. The leukemia never came back and my father lived another 13 years. He and his doctors paved the way for all future bone marrow transplants in Switzerland, saving countless lives.

 Remembering how I felt — looking through the glass at my father, wanting so much just to hold his hand — my heart breaks for the hundreds of thousands of people who are being torn from their lives and their loved ones today. The grandfather who can’t hold his daughter’s newborn child, the single mom who knows that she won’t make it to her son’s graduation, and the many others who are losing someone dear to them but have no chance to hug them or even say goodbye or “I love you”. I feel for them most of all.

 I put the letter away, tucking it into a clean plastic sheet. Maybe someday my sons will read it, and if I’m lucky, maybe they will have kids of their own to share it with. For now, I’ll keep busy and I’ll keep safe. I can’t fix what’s broken with the world, but I pray and will try my very best to make sure that the last time my precious sons see me it won’t be through a pane of glass.



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