From patient to peer
When Doug Thompson walked through the main entrance of University Hospital this past January, he was nervous. It was his first day as an Environmental Services custodian, but more importantly, it was the culmination of a journey that began several years before as a kidney transplant patient at UMHS.
“I didn’t know how I would react, being back in the hospital,” Doug said. “But this time, it felt different. I knew I was coming here to contribute.”
In February 2012, Doug — an Ann Arbor plumber at the time who thought he was in good health — was diagnosed with renal disease following a routine checkup. Once symptoms worsened and he was transferred to UMHS, his team of doctors started him on dialysis and evaluated him for a kidney transplant.
His mother was found to be a perfect match and agreed to donate her kidney. After overcoming neurogenic bladder issues and a number of kidney infections, Doug was considered strong enough to undergo the procedure in September 2013.
“I immediately felt better after the surgery,” said Doug, who was released from the hospital within three days. “At that point, I was eager to go back to work. Based on all of my interactions with people at UMHS, it was clear that this is where I wanted to be. I developed a passion for this place.”
There were no job openings at the time within the health system, so Doug took a temporary custodian position on the main U-M campus to get his foot in the door.
Two years later, he was hired as a discharge custodian at UMHS, turning over and sanitizing rooms once a patient is released from the hospital.
Over the past nine months, he has worked his way up to a temporary supervisor role within Environmental Services.
To Doug, the work is rewarding, as he gets to interact with patients who may be going through similar situations he dealt with. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. I can tell patients, ‘I’ve gone through this and I made it out ok.’ And they help inspire me as well.
“I talked to one patient who had battled kidney disease and was about to undergo her fifth transplant. I knew how hard going through one transplant was, but she stayed positive through five of them.”
Another patient was in the hospital for a few months following a car accident. “Once a week he would order pizza and have a friend bring a karaoke machine to his floor and have a party for himself and his fellow patients,” Doug said. “There is never a ‘woe is me’ attitude from our patients. So I refuse to take that attitude with my own health struggles.”
While he still has to meet with doctors to make sure he’s taking care of his new kidney, Doug is in good health. He and his wife, Heather, are expecting their first child later this month.
“Through hard work and dedication, I’ve been able to go from being a patient to giving back as an integral member of the health system,” Doug said. “I can now see what goes on here and the people who come together to make it as awesome as it is. And I can be a small part of that, which is a very special feeling.”