(Written by Dianne Hertzner, Kidney Transplant Recipient)
When I received a call from my biological mother, (I was adopted when I was an infant and found my birth mother when I was an adult) telling me I should have my kidney levels checked because she had received a kidney transplant and now her twin sister was also in need of a kidney transplant, I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and get checked out.
Good thing I did! The results reported that I had high creatinine levels and needed to see a specialist. After many trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, it was confirmed that I would need a kidney transplant. I was told I had hereditary nephritis and it could be many years before my kidney quit completely. After going home and telling my friends and family the news, I had many individuals who wanted to get tested to see if they could be my donor when the time came.
During this time, I did all kinds of research and I started the “Kidney Diet” to try to eat things that would prolong my kidney function. Eventually, my health started to deteriorate and I had to start dialysis. I didn’t want to start, since I thought that once I began this process, I’d never be able to go back.
It was a difficult time, my husband and I had two children and we were running a small business and had a very busy life. My husband, my daughter, and my cousin went through the dialysis training with me, and we set up our home to fit all of the medical equipment.
I still led a full life on dialysis. We went on vacations and went camping, even though we were not able to travel lightly because my dialysis equipment went everywhere with me. All this time, I was looking for a living donor and I had many friends and family get tested, but none of them were a match. I was special, I had very high antibodies, SO high that it would be like finding a needle in a haystack to find my match! Not very encouraging, but we kept searching.
Meanwhile we kept living life to the fullest. I tried as hard as I could to not let dialysis interfere in our lives. But I was getting tired, having to nap every day, and was struggling with nausea and other side effects. But honestly, I had thought that if I had to live with this machine the rest of my life, that I’d do it and I would make the best of it.
Throughout this time, I also participated in different medical studies to try to lower my antibodies so it would be easier to find a match. At one point, I had a potential match, but this also fell through. Then, in the summer of 2013, I went to see my doctor at the Mayo Clinic and he suggested another medical study I could try out. He encouraged me not to give up hope, but it still felt highly unlikely that this would work.
After this, my husband and I went home and decided to go on vacation, despite my need for a kidney transplant. We packed up our camper and all my dialysis equipment and went camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We had planned for a week long vacation, but two days into our trip at 10 o’clock at night, my cell phone rang and it was the Mayo Clinic saying they had a kidney for me! They asked how long it would take me to get there? We were 12 hours away camping in Custer State Park! It was crazy! We quickly packed up and drove all night long to Rochester. I received my transplant on August 27, 2013.
I don’t know my donor’s family, but if they hadn’t decided to donate their loved one’s organs, I could still be on dialysis. It is a huge decision to donate, but you can influence so many lives. Not just the recipient is affected, but anyone who knew of their journey is also touched by this gift of life. If people knew the change they could make in someone’s life, I am sure they would all be inspired to sign up as an organ donor!