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Patient of the Month: Joanna DeBaugh

"I’m part of a team that takes great commitment and pride in what we are doing. And that makes it a dream job."

Every storm runs out of rain; that’s the message Joanna DeBaugh carries today. Regrettably, it is a tale that has taken two decades to tell.

Joanna, a 41-year-old single mother from Boonsboro, Maryland, was diagnosed in high school with kidney disease. Doctors cautioned her about the severity of long-term health risks, including advising against pregnancy. However, in 2004 she gave birth to a son, Jacob. 

In 2008, those warnings appeared ominous when kidney failure forced Joanna, now the mother of a four-year-old child, to undergo dialysis treatments while hoping for a miracle. 

Her prayers for a healthy donor arrived when her mother, Joyce, proved to be a match. “Unfortunately, [her kidney] only lasted five years,” she said, citing a variety of rejection

episodes. “I had to go back to getting dialysis – this time hemodialysis. They had to fuse an

artery and vein in my arm to make a fistula. I was back getting treatment four hours a day,

three days per week.”

Unable to work a full-time job, Joanna was forced to rely on government benefits and the help

of family and friends to get by. She was placed back on the donor list in 2013, asked to play a

waiting game once more. A feeling of helplessness was soon accompanied by a deep


“I’ve always worked,” the graduate of Grace Academy said, admitting to profound and lengthy

periods of depression. “To me, even having a job is helping fulfill some type of purpose. They

also had me on really high doses of prednisone at that time. The side effects just made my

depression worse.”

In 2014, a cadaver donor gave Joanna another bite at the apple. 

She underwent a second kidney transplant at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore,

which allowed her to return to the workforce. But the success of the operation appeared short-

lived when doctors diagnosed Joanna with stage four kidney failure in 2017. Overwhelmed, she applied for a medical Cannabis license to help cope with the stress and anxiety. 

“My son was the number one reason I kept going,” she said. “I’m the only parent in the picture. I had to keep going.” 

As the medical industry opened its doors to Maryland, Joanna took a chance on a new occupation – leaving behind a job as a claims adjuster for State Farms Insurance in favor of part-time employment with Kind Therapeutics, Inc. (the Maryland division of multi-state Cannabis operator MariMed). Working at the company’s Hagerstown cultivation and processing facility, she started with packaging edibles and has since ascended up the ranks, serving as the full-time Edibles Manufacturing Manager for the past three years. Her “home” during the day is the facility’s GMP-certified, state-of-the-art kitchen.

“I feel very grateful to be a part of something that is bigger than me,” she said. “I’m part of a

team [at MariMed] that takes great commitment and pride in what we are doing. And that

makes it a dream job.” 

Joanna is careful not to sell Cannabis as a cure for kidney disease. She does, however, cite its use for the improvement of her physical and mental health, bolstering the resilience needed to overcome a battle that has defined more than half her life.

“I get to help people improve their quality of life by doing something I love,” she said, claiming

food as one of her love languages. “I get to help make medicine that is not manufactured and

placed in a pharmacy.” 

Recently, her son Jacob graduated high school. Now 19, Joanna says she is blessed to witness him tackle the challenge of adulthood.

“We really have a very special bond,” she said, noting that Jacob hopes to someday work as an automotive mechanic. “Through all my health issues, he’s seen me persevere and he’s the reason I kept going. But it’s not something I did by myself. Again, I just feel so blessed and grateful to be here.”

This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of Maryland Leaf.

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