University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 3/1996
A heartfelt thank you for continuing support

          "I am sorry I didn't write this letter
          seven years ago immediately after
          graduation. However, so many different
          things were going on in my life that
          getting through each day was a top
     When Kimberly A. Conte, Delaware '88, wrote to Betty J.
Paulanka, dean of the College of Nursing, last fall, she began
with an apology. One was
hardly needed.
     Earning a college degree can be tough. Juggling course work,
extracurricular activities and a personal life make for a lot of
     So, imagine you're a senior nursing student in the midst of
a demanding clinical rotation schedule, and you've just learned
you must begin dialysis treatment to support a failing kidney.
     That's the situation Conte faced in October 1987. In
addition to completing her training in a hospital setting, she
was receiving dialysis three times a week at a hospital in
     Conte's kidney problems were brought on by lupus, a disease
she was diagnosed as having in 1982. A disorder of the immune
system, lupus can affect the skin, joints and muscles, heart,
lungs, nervous system and blood, in addition to the kidneys.
     Conte began having kidney problems as a sophomore, and she
struggled with debilitating symptoms and fatigue even during her
years on dialysis.
     "Recently, I have been thinking about my time at the
University of Delaware andI realize how much the faculty at UD
meant to the successful completion of my degree. I don't think I
could have graduated without all your support and encouragement."
     As they watched Conte fight to maintain her academic
schedule while battling frequent infections and traveling to
Wilmington for treatments, her friends and professors rallied to
her side.
     Professors drove her to her clinical assignments and then
spent extra hours helping her review materials. Fellow classmates
assisted her during her rotations and helped her with coursework
when she was hospitalized.
     Conte says she was reassured by the way her professors and
classmates handled her situation with a matter-of-fact resolve to
see her through to graduation.
     "No one ever acted like I was a burden," says Conte, whose
brother, Kevin, Delaware '88, and sister, Donna, Delaware '94,
also are alumni. "Unless I brought it up, my friends didn't talk
about my problems. Everyone in college is stressed out over
something, and it was an attitude of 'We have to get through this
together.' I wasn't any different in that sense."
     "Luckily, I finally received a kidney transplant on May 26,
1990. I am happy to report that the function of my new kidney has
been wonderful, and I have not suffered any episodes of
     After graduation, Conte went to work part-time as a
medication nurse but was frustrated because her illness kept her
from fully pursuing her career.
     She knew her best hope was a transplant, and she waited
anxiously for two and a half years for an available organ. "The
waiting was difficult," she says. "My heart did a flip every time
my beeper went off, but it was always a false alarm."
     Finally, one evening, her mother shook her awake and told
her she was going to get her kidney. The successful operation
took place at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in
Philadelphia and was a turning point in Conte's life. A year and
a half later, she went to work full-time in Jefferson's
Intermediate Dialysis Unit, where she brings a special
perspective to her work.
     "In some respects, I'm not as sympathetic as other nurses,
because I look at it like you still have a life to get on with.
Some people like to wallow in their illness, but I tend to be
more pragmatic," Conte says.
     At the same time, her experiences have helped her be a
comforting presence for patients who are frightened and
apprehensive. "My favorite part of the job is sitting and talking
with patients and telling them what to expect," she says. "If I
think it's appropriate and I think they can benefit from hearing
someone else's story, I'll tell them mine."
     "I also have kept myself busy with the promotion of organ
and tissue donationand find it very rewarding. I even
participated in the U.S. Transplant Games in Atlanta, Ga., last
summer. I actually won a silver medal in the 50-yard
     Conte is a member of the Delaware Valley Transplant
Program's Kidney-1 Speakers Bureau. She is a speaker at schools
and churches and to various other organizations on the myths
surrounding organ transplantations. "If you know how the process
actually works, then you realize that the myths are unfounded,"
she says.
     She also earned her master's degree in nursing at Jefferson
last July, after three years of attending classes part-time.
     As for her health, she feels fine most of the time, although
she has been experiencing a chronic cough, occasional fever and
shortness of breath. In March, she was awaiting the results of a
test to determine the cause of the problems, but she wasn't
letting it slow her down. She was doing her best to go for a swim
whenever possible, trying to get in shape for this summer's
Transplant Games in Utah.
     "I owe you all so much, there is no way I could possibly
repay you. It would give me great pleasure to feel that I was
able to thank you in some small way for all of the understanding
and compassion I received during my time at the University of
                                 -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83