Most parents make daily sacrifices for their children. But some sacrifices stand out — like the one Jorge Trejo, of Greenfield, made for his daughter Natasha.

At age 15, Natasha developed nausea and a rash on her legs, which doctors believed were symptoms of Henoch-Schonlein purpura (HSP), a disorder that can affect the kidneys. The symptoms eventually disappeared and Natasha felt relatively healthy until age 19. Then, at a local urgent care one day, she learned her blood pressure was alarmingly high, and the doctor urged her to get to a hospital.

At the Emergency Department at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Froedtert Hospital, Natasha was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, a disease in which an antibody builds up in the kidneys, causing inflammation. Because the inflammation was causing her kidneys to fail, she started dialysis, a process that performs the blood-filtering function of the kidneys.

Natasha opted for peritoneal dialysis, which could be done at home while she slept. It gave her the freedom during the day to work as a server at Simple Café in Milwaukee.

This was her routine for about a year and a half, but she grew more exhausted and had to cut back on her activities. In June 2016, her doctors placed her on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant.

Becoming a Donor

When Natasha’s parents learned she needed a transplant, both wanted to be tested to find out if they could donate a kidney. Since the human body has two kidneys, it is possible to live well with one healthy kidney. Jorge requested he be tested first. He worried that the stress of being a caregiver for Natasha had taken a toll on his wife, Amparo, and he wanted to give his daughter her life back.

“I wasn’t afraid of going through this surgery,” Jorge said. “I just wanted to see Natasha doing better.” Jorge had extensive testing at Froedtert Hospital to determine if he could donate.

“It is important to make sure the donor is in good health and that we will do the donor no harm,” said Ehab Saad, MD, transplant nephrologist, medical director of the Adult Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, and MCW faculty member.

A team of physicians looks carefully at each potential donor, considering factors such as kidney and organ health, blood pressure, weight, diet and psychological health. These conversations include an independent living donor advocate.

“This is a person not attached to the kidney transplant team who advocates for the potential donor to ensure the right decisions are made,” Dr. Saad said.

When the transplant team called, Jorge was at his job as server supervisor at Simple Café and felt almost too nervous to answer the phone. However, the news was great.

“The transplant team coordinator told me, ‘Not only are you a match, you are a great match, an ideal match,” Jorge said.

The transplant took place a few weeks later, in October 2017. Jorge’s surgery began first, with his kidney removed in a minimally invasive way that required just three small incisions. The kidney was placed in special packaging and carried to the operating room next door where Natasha’s team stood ready to perform the transplant.

“It was a smooth and straightforward surgery,” said transplant surgeon and MCW faculty member Joohyun Kim, MD, PhD.

Minimally Invasive Procedure

For Natasha, the change was dramatic and immediate. “Honestly, I felt great,” she said. She was even able to take a short walk the same day. Natasha and Jorge’s rooms were placed far apart to motivate them to get up and move.

When Jorge finally reached her room two days after surgery, he was delighted. “Looking at her eyes is something I will never forget,” he said. “The change after just two days was unbelievable.”

Natasha, now 24, says her experience with the Froedtert & MCW health network has inspired her to consider nursing school. “I want to be like one of the kind, knowledgeable nurses who cared for me,” she said.

Jorge doesn’t want praise for his kidney donation; he stressed that his wife, Amparo, his older daughter, Annuchka, and Natasha’s husband, Jonathan, all worked hard taking care of Natasha throughout her illness. He also has plenty of praise for the care he and his daughter received.

As a supervisor at a popular brunch spot, Jorge knows something about hospitality, and he said Froedtert Hospital does too. “You might have the systems in place but if the people don’t have a culture of hospitality, of service to people, it’s not going to work,” he said. “Froedtert Hospital has the spirit to help.”

To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, visit froedtert.com/living-donor.

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