People do the most unexpected, generous things. When Lori Sederstrom needed a new kidney, little did she know a new friend would step forward. And when her sister, Amy Seefeldt, who had the same genetic condition, required a kidney transplant, a longtime friend opted to help.
Organ transplants are one of the great advances of modern medicine. With demand high, many patients wait years for a compatible organ. Like tens of thousands of individuals across the country, Sheboygan residents Lori and Amy were on the national waiting list for a transplant from a deceased donor. However, thanks to kidneys from living donors, their wait has ended.
Living Kidney Transplants Increasing
While most kidney transplants rely on deceased donors, living kidney transplants are slowly rising across the country.
Lori and Amy both suffered from polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic condition in which fluid-filled cysts develop and multiply, causing the kidneys to lose function. Both needed dialysis to remove waste products from their blood. For about 18 months, Lori was on peritoneal dialysis, a treatment patients can do at home in which a cleansing fluid is administered through a catheter in the abdomen. Amy was on hemodialysis for five months, which requires a clinic visit, during which a machine filters blood.
“While these treatments are lifesaving, the goal is to find a living donor before dialysis is needed,” said transplant nephrologist Ehab Saad, MD. “It’s the ideal situation.”
“Once the kidney reaches chronic disease status, there’s a risk of complications, such as stroke and cardiac disease,” said Joohyun Kim, MD, PhD, a transplant surgeon who worked on a team to perform Amy’s transplant. “Patients do not usually die from the kidney disease itself but, from the complications. When waiting for a deceased donor, we never know when a kidney will become available. With a living donor, once the donor is cleared medically, we can go ahead and schedule surgery.”
Dr. Kim said that while the long-term outcome for transplants from both deceased and living donors is good, living donor kidneys offer an advantage. “With a deceased donor kidney, it may be six weeks before the transplanted kidney functions fully,” he said. “Living donor kidneys work much sooner, if not immediately.”
For Lori and Amy, these lifesaving gifts came quite surprisingly.
“My friend Kathy took me out to eat for my birthday, and when her friend Paula joined us, I said the more the merrier,” Lori said, recalling how she met Paula Strains. The next day, Kathy called and said Paula wanted to talk to me. She wanted to donate. She’s such an outstanding person.”
“When I met Lori, I liked her immediately,” Paula said. “She is so full of life and has a great laugh. When I learned that PKD runs in Lori’s family so they couldn’t donate, one thing led to another, and I started the screening process.”
Amy’s donor, on the other hand, was a longtime friend, Jackie Cancialosi, and Amy had no idea the special role she would play in her life. Amy had known Jackie for 30 years and kept in contact via Facebook when Jackie relocated to Indiana.
“I kept everything a secret until I found I was a match,” Jackie said. “I surprised Amy at her mother’s, and said, ‘Amy, I’ve been cleared to be a donor for you. I would love to give you my kidney.’”
“I still can’t believe it,” Amy said. “Jackie is a wonderful, selfless person. She didn’t want me to go through the hurt if she didn’t pass the screening. I’d already had nine potential donors eliminated.”
Life After Transplant
Transplant surgeon Christopher Johnson, MD, performed laparoscopic surgery on donors Paula and Jackie. Jackie, who donated her kidney in October 2016, said she is back to normal. Paula, who had her surgery in March, has started exercising again. “Once I’m able to go from morning to night, I’ll know I’m back,” she said.
Dr. Saad, who is providing follow-up care for the sisters, said both are doing well. “In addition to increased kidney function, they’ve lost weight and increased their energy and appetite,” he said. “And while they must take a number of medications, including antirejection drugs, the rest of that regimen will decrease over time.”
For two sisters from Sheboygan, life is looking good.
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