By Lisa Ballantine and Sebrenia Johnson
This is a shared story of a kidney donor and recipient told through the eyes of both participants who are related through the marriage of their children but were brought closer together because of a paired kidney exchange.
When I first met Sebrenia, I was impressed with this kind, godly yet fierce woman who was to be my son’s mother-in-law. I saw her ability for compassion and kindness toward others. We connected immediately, and she has since become a dear friend. In fact, we call each other sister-mom since there is no term for our relationship, and as we share our children now, and love each other as sisters, this seems fitting.
As I got to know Sebrenia, I learned that this amazing woman was being hindered by her lack of a functioning kidney.
To manage my kidney disease for the past 13 years, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for three hours and 15 minutes I needed dialysis treatment. I also had to incorporate a renal diet into my lifestyle, which included many food restrictions. As a dialysis patient I had to adhere to no potatoes, cheese, milk, chocolate, dark-green leafy vegetables, beans, cornbread, bananas, tomatoes, orange juice, colas, ice cream, peanuts or products with nuts.
These foods are high in potassium and phosphorus and could be detrimental to the heart and bones of a person with limited or no renal function.
After falling ill and urinating blood at age 16, Tim Guimon was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy — a kidney disease that causes inflammation and interferes with the kidney’s ability to filter waste from blood. He also learned that he was born with one kidney smaller than the other, and that these conditions could cause issues throughout his life.
“At that time, though, I didn’t have any major symptoms,” Tim says. “My doctor said I was doing fine, but warned me that it would probably progress as I got older. So for about 10 years, I kind of neglected to think about my kidneys.”
But when he was 26 years old, Tim’s wife, Kerstin, noticed that his legs were unusually swollen. Though he initially didn’t think it was a big deal, Kerstin and his mom, Sandy, encouraged him to see a doctor to determine if the swelling was related to his kidneys.
Michelle Schneible and her uncle Ben (center) with family members at a party on the day before surgery.
Part two of Michele Schneible’s account of donating a kidney to her uncle.
The day before the surgery was a celebration. My parents flew in from Arizona, and my Auntie Sharon hosted a pre-surgery costume party — we all dressed like doctors in scrubs, and I presented them two huge red velvet cakes in the shape of kidneys! Note to all of you: Do not eat red velvet cake before surgery; it can freak out the hospital staff. But the party didn’t end there; it happened the morning of our surgery as well. Rush University Medical Center was so accommodating in allowing us our fun. We took pictures in our hospital gowns and silver berets, smiling for the camera in secluded dressing rooms hours before our surgeries.
From then on, I don’t remember much, to be honest, because I was given drugs to relax while I was waiting to be wheeled into surgery. I just remember the surgical staff hovering over my head, like clusters of happy floating moon faces. They were adjusting my blankets, holding my hand and telling me about how brave I was and a hero. Hero?! Knowing me, I must’ve garbled something sarcastic to say, and then it was lights out.
Michele Schneible with her uncle, a year after transplant surgery
By Michele Schneible
My name is Michele Schneible, and this is the story of how I came to donate one of my kidneys to my uncle Ben.
In 1964, Ben was 26 years old and newly married. During a routine health exam, he discovered that his blood pressure was in the 140s and there was an elevated amount of protein in his urine. Based on the exam results, his doctor told Ben he would be a candidate for dialysis. Many tests later, he was diagnosed with glomeuralnephritis, which caused scarring of the nephrons in his kidneys. Ben managed to avoid dialysis for 36 years until eventually he noticed that with the slightest exertion, he would lose energy immediately, his heart would pound rapidly and he would vomit.
Ben thought he was actually having heart failure, but thorough testing proved it was his kidneys passing the threshold of their function, and he finally needed dialysis. After Ben started peritoneal dialysis, he was then put on the transplant list in 1991. In January of 1993, he was approved for a transplant and received a cadaver kidney. But there were complications within the first few years due to renal stenosis. After that, Ben had no other problems and managed to have 17 good years of kidney function. But much to his dismay, after 17 years, his transplant kidney began to deteriorate. He then went back on continuous dialysis, hooked to a machine he had at home for eight to 10 hours a night while he slept.
Seated (from left): Theresa Partida-Aguirre, RN, Husai Kelliher, RN, and Damaris Echevarria, RN. Standing: Brad Hinrichs, MBA, Elizabeth Myers, RN, Linda Murphy, Sarah Papadopoulos, RN, BSN, Maria Sieczka, RN, Mary Hellmich, BSN, RN, and J. Robert Clapp, Jr., FACHE.
When several nurse coordinators left the kidney transplant program late last year, the other nurse coordinators in the program either took on new duties, worked extra days, assumed an increased patient load or otherwise restructured their work to ensure that the many patients seeking kidney transplants at Rush continued to receive high-quality care.
In recognition of their dedication and hard work, the Rush kidney transplant nurse coordinators team received the Team of the Year Award.
Pretransplant nurse coordinators play an integral role in the transplant process, serving as the initial contact between the patient and the transplant program. These coordinators screen patients with end-stage kidney disease to identify viable candidates for kidney transplantation.
They also work closely with transplant surgeons and nephrologists to provide consistent quality care as patients progress through the referral, evaluation and pretransplant management and listing processes.
The pretransplant nurse coordinators currently are responsible for 454 patients who are awaiting a kidney transplant at Rush and another 400 other patients who are undergoing medical evaluations in order to be put on the waiting list for transplant. Continue reading
By Cari Kornblit
For 25 years, Brian, a 49-year-old husband and father of two daughters, struggled with chronic kidney disease. By late 2008, Brian’s kidney disease had progressed to the point that his kidneys were failing. He needed to start considering a kidney transplant.
Brian began asking around to find out which hospital he should choose for his transplant. A vice president of a real estate development company, Brian asked the company’s president to get a recommendation from contacts he had at a Chicago hospital. Brian also spoke to a former co-worker and friend who had received a kidney transplant at Rush University Medical Center. He heard the same answer from both — go to Rush. Brian says what really swayed him to choose Rush was the personalized attention that he and his family received right away.
Earlier this year, a Rush transplant team led by surgeon Edward Hollinger, MD, performed a minimally invasive laparoscopic donor nephrectomy on his daughter, Kristina, to remove one of her kidneys, then transplanted the kidney into Brian. Here’s their story.
Cari Kornblit is a writer at Rush. She is a Pittsburgh native who worked for a hospital system in China for two years before coming to Rush.