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Cruise Against the Clock
Looking back to when I was 23-years-old, I could’ve never imagined the journey that brought me here. At 23, I was pregnant with my first child and recently diagnosed with a hereditary disease called IgA nephropathy, which my father also had. This disease progresses slowly, but from the start I was told that my kidneys would eventually fail. I was in denial. Instead of thinking about my future, I focused all my energy on my full and part-time jobs, my marriage and my children. I never thought that I would have to go on dialysis.
Finally, when I was 42, my kidneys began to fail as a result of the IgA nephropathy, I started my journey with DaVita in January 2010 when I began hemodialysis treatment. When I began treatment, I was overwhelmed. I had to change my lifestyle, my routine and it felt like I was starting from scratch. At that time in 2010, both of my children were in high school and I was determined not to let dialysis or my disease beat me. It was not going to be a death sentence. I also had amazing family members and friends who were determined to find a kidney donor match for me. Almost everyone I knew got tested to see if they were a match for me.
When I started dialysis, I was worried I’d never find a kidney match. Because of my disease, finding a match was difficult. After nine months of my new normal, I received the news that two of my friends were matches! Because of the difference in age we chose to go with the younger of the two donors. I was so grateful that I had two people wanting to give me their kidneys. I received my first kidney transplant in September 2010.
For three years, I lived with that transplant until one day in 2013, when I felt like I had a cold or maybe the flu. Looking back, I didn’t realize these mundane symptoms were actually signs that my kidney transplant was failing. Unfortunately, my first kidney transplant failed and I had to go back on dialysis in 2013.
One of the treatment options my care team suggested when I had to go back on dialysis was peritoneal dialysis (PD) since it was unlikely I’d receive another kidney donation in the near future. With the help of my amazing care team, I decided to go on PD. Choosing PD seemed to be most suitable for my lifestyle and it offered me more freedom to pick a schedule that worked best for me! I traveled to see my daughter play softball and had more time to do whatever I wanted during the day. I’ll never forget my husband, Sam, and I bringing my materials to different hotel rooms so I could treat when we traveled to softball games.. The difference between PD and in-center was night and day. I had my life back.
The transition to PD was easy because of how helpful the on-call nurse was. She constantly checked in on and educated me. Sam was also a huge help. He and I got PD down to a fine science. I made sure I was hooked up by 9 p.m. each night so I could dialyze overnight and wake up the next morning and go to work. He always ensured I had successful and safe treatments and for that I am very thankful.
While I was on PD, I was also able to take a cruise from Galveston, Texas to Mexico. I knew it was going to be a great trip with my family, but I would’ve never guessed what happened while we were on the ship.
In August 2019, my family embarked on our cruise to Mexico. While we were having fun, my DaVita center received a call that my name was next on the transplant list and they had found a match for me. My two amazing nurses, Siv and Neris, knew this was an opportunity I’d never get again and informed the transplant coordinator I was on a cruise.
Siv and Neris knew they couldn’t reach me because I didn’t have cell phone service, but that didn’t stop them. They had a brilliant idea to call Carnival Cruise Lines. They told them my name, that I had left from a port in Galveston and that I was in the Gulf of Mexico. The woman from Carnival told them they’d try to find me, but that it was nearly impossible. Siv and Neris thought they’d never hear back from Carnival, but the stars aligned that day.
My husband, granddaughter and I were having breakfast one morning on the ship, when my daughter came rushing to the breakfast table and said, “Mom, they are saying our name over the ship’s speaker.” When I heard this, I thought I’d won a free trip or something! But when I saw the area code of the phone call for me, I knew it was the transplant center calling me to tell me that they had found a donor for me. When I heard the news, my heart sank. I told the center I wouldn’t be back until the next morning. But yet again, the odds were in my favor. The center said that if I could be at the hospital by 2 p.m. the next day, the kidney could still be transplanted.
The cruise staff informed the captain who made sure I was back to the port in Galveston early the next morning. Once we arrived in Galveston, the cruise let my family get off first and my son was there waiting for us. My son is a policemen and he planned to escort us from Galveston to Houston in rush hour traffic. We miraculously made it to the hospital at 12:30 p.m.
On August 15th, 2019, I received my second kidney transplant. It was a miracle. This kidney was my “kidney twin” and was a zero mismatch. It’s not unusual, but it is rare.
Since my second transplant, I’ve continued to work, spend time with my family and I’ve begun to raise awareness about kidney donation. I advocate for living donors wherever and whenever I can because I believe many folks do not understand it’s possible to change someone’s life through kidney transplantation. Moving forward, I plan to take care of myself and my new kidney.