Nov. 24--This time last year, Rochelle Loritts was spending 12 hours per week in a medical office. Her kidneys had failed as a result of diabetes that had plagued her for years.
She was in her 15th month of dialysis, and "I became weaker and sicker as time went on," she told me.
Loritts, 65, of northwest Roanoke, could barely walk without assistance. She had to move out of her two-story home because she couldn't make it up the stairs.
But her life changed dramatically in February. Her eldest son, Jason Loritts, 38, of Suffolk, donated one of his kidneys to her. He was the best match of all three of her sons, who together decided they had to do something for their mom.
And oh my goodness, she is grateful.
So are many others, based on answers from scores of readers to this simple question: "For what are you thankful?"
"As a result of my transplant, I am a new person," Loritts wrote. "The University of Virginia will forever have my gratitude, respect and patronage for the outstanding care and monitoring of me and my son.
"Now, I am walking a minimum of 5 miles a week and I am able to assume most of my old lifestyle, which can be summed up in one word -- active.
"Thankful is not enough of a word for the love and care I have been given by my family, my significant other of 11 years, Billy Gilbert (he was also my caregiver), UVa, many well wishers praying for me and my brave and loving Jason," Loritts wrote.
"Sometimes on my daily walks I become tearful, full to the brim with joy and thankfulness for this new lease on life. I am committed to raising awareness of the many dangers of diabetes and the many rewards of organ donorship."
Issues of sickness and health, and of loved ones lost and saved, were a dominant theme in this year's reader responses. Much of what follows was edited for space, and others were omitted. Many of those are on my blog, at blogs.roanoke.com/dancasey.
One arrived Nov. 14, literally from beyond the grave.
Thomas Allen of Roanoke worked on it for a long time, his family told me. He mailed it on Friday, Nov. 11 -- and then he died the next day.
Here is Allen's, followed by a huge grab bag of thankfulness from others. Have a great and fulfilling Thanksgiving.
I'm a little bit like the boy was when his mother asked him how many things he was thankful for, and he said, "I can't count that far."
I'm thankful that I went to an ole-timey prayer meeting and met a cute little girl, back in the late 1940s, and married July 7, 1950. We were both 18-year-old kids. It's a miracle she was able to put up with me that long.
I'm thankful I was able to give up smoking more than 25 years ago, after having a major heart attack. A few months later I had a quadruple bypass, and then 13 years later, after a minor heart attack, they put 4 stents in. I'm thankful the Lord gives the doctors the wisdom and knowledge to keep us going.
Dan, the very day that you had your column about being thankful, we had a very exciting incident take place. We decided to eat lunch at KFC and I gave [my wife] my billfold to buy our lunch, and when she got back she handed me the billfold and I didn't give it another thought.
Well after we got home I turned on the radio to listen to the race. I can't get it on TV because I just have basic. Just about the time the race was about to end, the phone rang. The person on the other end asked if I was Thomas Allen. I said "yes."
They said, "we found your billfold on the floor." Well I went into a panic. I have lung problems so that made it much worse. So I got my wife and we headed off back to KFC. This young lady found and turned it in to her boss. She was not only a young lady, she was an angel.
So after all the breaking into houses and robbing and stealing there are still good people in this world. I did not have a fortune in the billfold but I had important papers and [my] driver's license.
There are still some honest folks here, especially at KFC.
For my Mama and Daddy, who have weathered the hardest year of their lives with dignity and strength. For the doctors at UVa Medical Center, without whom my mother would not be here. For my big sister -- my port in a storm. For Jason, my loving husband, and Cash, my amazing son, who, at age three, sings a mean Dirt Road Anthem. For Charlie, kicking me as I write this, who will join our family in March. For a job and a home and food in the fridge. For all this and so much more, I give thanks.
I am thankful for Feeding America Southwest Virginia and all that they do to help partner agencies feed hungry people.
Not only do they help feed, they advocate locally, statewide, and nationally for those who often have no voice and more than likely an empty stomach. FASWVA works tirelessly on behalf of everyone to ensure that those who need food assistance get it.
I am thankful for Ruth Crouch of Bedford. Forty-eight years ago as a foster child, I lived with her and her husband and two boys, and things were tough financially.
It was hard to keep food on the table then. I remember Ruth going to work at D. Reynolds in Bedford so that she could help out. I also remember her telling me that she was going to work so that she could keep me because she loved me.
Momma Crouch still calls me her son today, and I still call her mom. I love you Ruth Crouch, you're the best mom ever!!!
I am specially thankful to my neighbor's dog. She lives behind the fencing that separates our back yard from that of our neighbor. I noticed that she is rather lonely, but has very expressive eyes.
I am a stay-home mom and my children are grown up. So, I am rather lonely. One day I approached her across the fence and she was very happy. I gave her an Indian name (Tutun) and she responds to that name. She likes me and I talk to her. We became good friends. She fills a void in my lonely life and I am really thankful to her for that.
I am thankful for the time I had with my father. We traveled many places over the years. The last trip we took was out west just a few months ago. We did not know that it would be our last trip together.
Dad had major heart surgery about three weeks after we returned. He had many complications from the surgery and never recovered.
I am thankful for the last trip with him and very thankful that I was by his side for many weeks after his surgery. I was with him when he took his last breath and now he has taken the trip of a lifetime without me. I am thankful he is on this wonderful journey in heaven.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for every day of my life. I was diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive cancer, and given a 40 percent chance of survival. Thanks to God, great doctors, the love of family, friends and prayers of all including my church family I am now a seven-year cancer survivor.
James W. Michael Jr.
I am thankful for shelter from the elements.
I realize how fortunate I am when I think of soldiers and marines who have fought through the blazing heat of Vietnam or the South Pacific, or the freezing cold of the Battle of the Bulge.
Just think: a simple rainstorm could bring great misery when you don't have a washer and dryer at your disposal.
I was born and raised in Radford. I couldn't wait to head north to the District of Columbia area at 21. At 46 I couldn't wait to come home. Tired of the pace of big-city life, tired of the horrendous traffic that threatened my life on a daily basis, tired of rude people and surrounded by people who had no interest in knowing their neighbors, my heart and soul "needed" to come home.
I love Roanoke. I love the people here who are involved in being a "community." They rally around friends, neighbors, church members and complete strangers in time of need.
We live in a beautiful place, surrounded by citizens who are equally beautiful on the inside. For these things I am deeply grateful!
I am thankful that I still have my husband, Dave. On Nov. 7, 2005, he had a heart attack in the parking lot of Highland Park Elementary.
He was taken to Roanoke Memorial where I was told he had brainstem activity only and wouldn't survive. Late that night I woke to the sound of him coughing. He was looking at me, wondering where he was. I called the nurses and was told it was a miracle.
In the next 10 months, four rehabs and several hospital stays later, I was told he wasn't going to make it four more times. Luckily, they were all wrong. He is the love of my life. He makes me laugh, grumble, and cuss, but I am a better person because of him.
This year in addition to all the things I am thankful for, I am thankful for a new granddaughter. Josie was born September 15. Since my grandson is 13 we were not expecting any more grandchildren.
I believe that all things happen for a reason and God sent this new little baby to bless our family. There is nothing like grandchildren to love and spoil.
Carla H. Pickeral
I am thankful for my husband of 23 years, 5 months and 27 days. I am thankful Ronnie's idea of unwinding after work is cooking an amazing meal for his girls. I am thankful for Ronnie's bad eyesight, as he thinks I look beautiful in the morning.
I am thankful that when I signed us up for ballroom dance lessons, he just smiled.
I am thankful that even though I have a chronic illness, he never makes me feel like a burden. I am thankful that Ronnie loves being challenged -- physically and mentally; as being married to me is kind of like that.
But most of all I love that my Ronnie loves God and prays for me and his two beautiful daughters every day!
I was hit and severely injured in a head-on auto accident last November on Black Friday. I left home that morning at 6 a.m. and did not return for four months! I didn't usually wear my seat belt but on that day I did.
Thanks to God and a wonderful team of doctors, physical therapists, and a strong and loving husband and sons and great co-workers, I have made it back. I am now walking again and even driving again. At first it was thought I would lose my left foot and not walk again.
There are so many drivers out there not paying attention to themselves or others. Please, please put your seat belts on and your cellphones down!
I am thankful for a recent event that brought my family closer. In January of 2011, we had a house fire.
It didn't burn everything, but it was bad enough to keep us from living there. We stayed with friends from church while everything was being settled to where we could have our own home again.
Our family has been like any other family until we cried and had to figure things out together. If the fire had never happened, we wouldn't be as close as we are now.
I am thankful for Dr. Daniel B. Drysdale, whose ophthalmology practice is in Blacksburg, and who proves that there are still good people in this world. I am also thankful for The Free Clinic of the NRV.
The recession caused my husband to recently close the small business he started 34 years ago. In 2009, just after we lost our medical insurance, a cataract stole the vision from my right eye and, with it, my love of reading and the ability to drive at night. Then, other health issues caused me to visit the Free Clinic, who put me in touch with Dr. Drysdale. He is, quite simply, the best.
Joan Covington Comeau
I am thankful for all blessings of life. A mother and father who raised a large family with not much in the way of material things but a lot of love. Also I'm thankful that I lived in the time I lived when things were simpler and we didn't try to "keep up with the Joneses."
Most of all, thankful for the young man, Jesus, who gave his life for me.
Dorothy L. Stoots
We are just so thankful that we still have our daughter-in-law (Robin) with us this Thanksgiving season after being in ICU at Roanoke Memorial Hospital for seven days in October and being told she had only a 30 percent chance of surviving. We thank God for the doctors, nurses, pastors and many people who prayed for her and came to the hospital to be with the family during this difficult time.
She is now home doing great and we all are so grateful and thank God for her complete recovery!
Jack and Cordelia Dillon
It is such a blessing that I can live in this wonderful retirement home, where I am treated like a queen every day. My apartment is small but adequate. The food is very delicious, varied and special. The staff here at The Park Oak Grove is great: the highest quality and most loving.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
I'm thankful for something that I hate more than anything. My son was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2004 at age 4. He is a seven-year survivor.
I know now I haven't experienced the worst of the worst -- because he is still here. I have made friends all over the world. I have raised over $10,000 for pediatric cancer research. Levi's story has touched thousands of people. Every day is a miracle.
Being thankful this year is especially significant for me since the day falls on the 24th. On that day 67 years ago I was very fortunate to marry one of the greatest young ladies one could ever hope to share an adult life with for nearly 63 years, Virginia S. Kinzey.
I can look back and acknowledge that her support and encouragement enabled me to be distinctly more successful in professional and other pursuits than I could do alone. We established a family where her presence as a mother was essential in raising two sons.
I am thankful to be able to have memories of that superb time in my life because of her. In spite of great families and friends, activities alone are not quite the same without her.
Bertram Kinzey Jr.
On November 2, 2008, our 20-year-old grandson, Matt Miller, while riding his bicycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Wintergreen, was hit by a car going 40 mph.
There was traveling on the Parkway, at the same time, an anesthesiologist from Charlottesville.
He stopped, after telling his wife, "that boy's dead." He went through all efforts to bring Matt back. A helicopter took Matt to the trauma unit at UVa Hospital. Every bone in his face was crushed but one.
After many days in a coma, many operations, much therapy and determination Matt told his doctors, "I am going home for Thanksgiving." And because of the Grace of God, many prayers, excellent doctors and nurses, he did.
Wanda and Sidney Miller
There are many things in life you can be thankful for, but some are more important than others.
I am thankful that my heart condition doesn't stop me from playing sports or any other activities. Going to college is very important to me and I'm so thankful that it has given me the opportunity to pursue my career while others can't.
The most important thing is giving my grandma the strength to survive during these last couple of years. It is a blessing and I'm so thankful I have her here to spend the holidays with.
I have a grandson who is 23 years old. When he was 16 he got into drugs as drugs are everywhere in high schools. After his parents sent him to several rehab centers, with no apparent good results, and after spending lots and lots of money, he was finally entered into a teen challenge center in West Virginia.
After spending a full year there my grandson found religion was his way to drug freedom.
I am so thankful for the teen center and my grandson for his courage and wanting to help himself during the past trying year. Now we are able to play golf and share our lives with each other.
I am thankful this Thanksgiving because I have been blessed by the ties, both old and new, to people who have brought joy and meaning to my life. My family comes to mind first, beginning with my grandfather who picked on a banjo and my grandmother who played along on the piano, while raising nine children and helping with their thirty grandchildren.
I'm also grateful for friends both old and new. My lunch bunch friends have known each other for more that forty years. While we always have new things to talk about, there is a comfort that comes from knowing them for such a long time that we each know where the other is coming from. One at a time we have been through most of what life brings.
Nancy A. McMahon
That I was born to poor parents, who loved me and taught me the value of life.
For teachers that corrected me and encouraged me to do my best. For the Marines that taught me responsibility.
For my two wives. Betty took a young man just out of the Marines, put him through college and dental school, gave him three wonderful children.
For Judy, my second wife, whom I love very much, and her two sons. Seth, age 9 when we married, is now a physician. For all of my patients, who allowed me to take care of their dental needs for 42 years.
For all of my friends and my health.
William W. Joness
I am thankful for our public library. I cannot imagine doing without the library. I get the books I want to read and the library has a meeting room that I play bridge in twice a month. The library has computers available if mine bites the dust. A book club, a writer's club -- even gospel music is going on at our library!
It's been almost 6 months since the death of my mother. She passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. It hasn't been easy, but I have come to a point where I can say I'm truly blessed to have had the time that I was given with her.
I am thankful that my mother Ms. Margaret (Babysis) Garrison was able to show me the rights and wrongs of life. The love that was given to me shows every day through the love that I now give to my daughter.
My MS has been in remission for several years now and for this, I am eternally grateful. Perhaps this will help someone else who is going through a rough time. If you can use it, please do. God is showing me many ways of getting my story out.
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 80s, I had so many adjustments to make. I am thankful that I'm now in remission and I attribute this to my six F's:
I start with my thumb which stands for Faith.
My index finger represents Fight, never giving up. We are fighting our demons.
The center finger represents Family. My family has always been my greatest source of encouragement.
The ring finger represents Friends. Often when we are at our weakest or lowest point our friends come through.
And finally, my pinky finger stands for Fun, that ability to laugh and enjoy life even when all seems hopeless.
I then make a Fist and what is on top -- my thumb -- Faith. Everything else is safely tucked inside.
Bonnie Martin Boyles
In anticipation of Thanksgiving, residents of Heritage Hall-Blacksburg recently held a reminiscence event. Wilma Seyse, age 99, shared the following story:
Some years back, her long anticipated new stove had arrived just in time for its first use Thanksgiving Day. After careful preparation, she placed her beautiful turkey in the new oven. Then this Buffalo, N.Y., family took off for an afternoon visit to Niagara Falls. They returned later to a smoke filled house and charbroiled bird. A malfunctioning oven timer was the culprit.
So over the river and through the woods they went for a delicious holiday dinner at their favorite restaurant.
What was Wilma thankful for? She said, "I was thankful for my new stove but really thankful that we came home when we did."
Activities Assistant, Heritage Hall
(c)2011 The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.)
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