It was slow, it was steady and it was insidious. And for Nancy Chesterfield, the ultimate prognosis was a life of being hooked to a dialysis machine.
The American Simmental Association (ASA) staff member had experienced a slow but steady decline in kidney function. “I was diagnosed with thin basement membrane disease (TBMD) and knew that eventually I was going to need a new kidney or be put on dialysis,” she says.
TBMD is described medically as “an inherited disorder that mainly affects the glomeruli, tiny tufts of capillaries or small blood vessels in the kidneys that filter wastes from the blood.” It is a rare disorder that has been diagnosed in less than 1% of the population.
During a casual conversation in the ASA office lunchroom, Kathy Shafer, who has shared an open office space with Chesterfield for several years, heard something that piqued her interest. “That was seven or eight years ago, so I prodded Nancy for more information. When I heard what she was going through, the words ‘you can have one of mine’ just kind of popped out of my mouth,” she recalls.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed,” Chesterfield exclaims. “I had already checked with my siblings and none of them was a match. After the necessary blood work and tests were performed, Kathy came up a perfect match.”
On the advice of her doctor, Chesterfield visited the University of Minnesota Hospital, widely acclaimed and ranked as number one in the world for kidney transplants. On December 15, just a few weeks before she would have been required to go on dialysis, the two women went to the hospital together accompanied by their spouses, Mick, a retired Montana game warden and Wade, ASA’s executive vice president.
“Even then, I asked her ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’” Nancy said. Kathy’s answer: “Absolutely!” reaffirmed that she had no intention of backing out.
Kathy, as the donor, went into the operating room first. “The best way to perform a transplant is directly from the donor to the recipient as quickly as possible,” Kathy said. “They did not remove my organ until Nancy had been fully prepared to receive it. When she was ready, doctors promptly removed my kidney and inserted it in her. Because it was so quick, there was no chance for tissue deterioration.”
When she recovered from the anesthesia, Chesterfield, 62, felt immediate relief. “I could feel the kidney working, because I’d had such a fluid buildup. After six days in the hospital, I checked in with the doctors every day for two weeks and have gradually tapered off those visits to twice a week to once a week to once a month. I will take two anti-rejection pills every day for the rest of my life.”
Shafer, who is 53, volunteered that her age is ideal for transplant donors. “I learned that if I were to have kidney disease, it would have most likely shown up by now,” she said.
More donors are needed
According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are currently 121,678 people in the U.S. who are waiting for life-saving organ transplants. Of those, 100,791 are awaiting kidneys. The median wait for a kidney is 3.6 years. In 2014, 17,107 kidney transplants took place in the U.S., with 11,570 of the kidneys coming from deceased donors (traffic accidents, heart attacks, etc.), with 5,537 originating from living donors. Shockingly, 13 people die each day while waiting for a kidney.
“I’d like to encourage people to learn about the urgent need for kidneys and how they might go about donating. There are very few risks associated with living with one kidney and by donating, a person experiences a great rush of satisfying purpose,” Shafer concludes. “There is a massive, national data base available to match donors with recipients and donated kidneys can be kept for future use. The missing component is a lack of willing donors.”
As for Chesterfield, she has a new lease on life. “I feel like a new person. Before the surgery, I was always tired – I could have easily taken a nap at my desk. Now my energy level is amazing and I don’t get tired at all. I can’t be any more grateful to Kathy — she gave me a part of her own body and saved my life.”
When you donate through kidney chains, like the National Kidney Registry, you could impact 24+ people. If you are healthy and looking for a way to make a difference, consider live organ donation. Visit www.kidney.com for more information.
This article was written for the April issue of the Register, the official publication of the American Simmental Association.
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