I have focal sclerosis, a form of kidney disease. When I was a child, a bout of strep throat damaged my kidneys and right away I lost 30% of my kidney function. Once I was diagnosed, I always feared that there would come a day when I would need a kidney transplant.
That day came in February 2014. I received a call from my doctor telling me that my blood tests came back toxic and I would need to go immediately to the ER. As I stood in front of the ER doors my head was overloaded with many thoughts and questions:
What was going to happen once I walk in these doors? Will I have to go on dialysis? Can I afford this? What do I tell my family?
One thing I knew for certain was as soon as I walked through those doors, my life would never be the same.
That day is pretty much a blur to me because part of me wanted to believe that this was all a horrible nightmare. I kept saying to the nurses I want off this roller coaster. Next thing I knew, the doctor came in and told me that I would be admitted into the hospital and I needed to start dialysis immediately along with the process to get a kidney transplant. I was terrified!
At the time I had been living in Santa Barbara, California working as a boxing instructor and personal trainer far from my family. So now I had to make some calls. My parents, family and friends were in shock.
They could not believe it because I didn't look sick. I worked out everyday, I'm young...but kidney disease does not discriminate. Organ failure can happen to anyone at any age.
So once I called all the main people, there was one call I was dreading to make. I had just started dating this guy I met on match.com about a month prior and I wasn't even sure I should tell him what I was going through. Why would he stay with this girl he hardly knew and start this journey that had yet to have a light at the end of the tunnel.
I decided to pick up the phone and call him. To my surprise he rushed right over to be by my side. I was in the hospital for about and month and he worked, ate and slept right next to my hospital bed.
We learned a whole lot about each other really quickly. Most women don't even want to let the guy they are seeing for a month see them without makeup, but basically he saw me at my worst and still stayed.
We learned a lot about the transplant process and that I would need to be on medications for the rest of my life. I might need more than one transplant and that my kidney disease could affect the transplanted kidney. Financially this would cost more than I could ever imagine.
At some point I looked over at Mike and I told him, "I know that this is not what you signed up for and I would understand if you wanted to bail."
But he didn't leave and he stayed by my side. The next few months I went through dialysis, a failed fistula surgery, a blood clot, internal bleeding from my PD catheter and all the complications you never see in the movies or hear on the news. It was now my time to decide if I was going to cry or fight. I admit, I did a little of both, but ultimately I chose to fight.
When I got out of the hospital I went back to teaching boxing classes and working out even while on dialysis. I stayed positive even when I was yet again admitted into the hospital. One thing that was a source of encouragement was having Mike there making me laugh and walk laps around the hospital.
One day they were wheeling me back from one of my surgeries. I got back to my room and looked up at Mike and I knew I was in love with him and wanted to marry him. So I jokingly said, "Will you marry me?" And to my surprise he said yes.
Then several days after that Mike came into my room and out of the blue brushed my hair and asked me to go for one of our walks around the hospital...him looking suspiciously well dressed meanwhile I was in my very fashionable backless hospital gown toting an IV cart. Mike made it official and got down on one knee and asked me to marry him...of course I said yes.
I wish I could say after that we lived happily ever after and rode off into the sunset, but life doesn't work like that. I faced more complications with dialysis, infections, blood clots, and we found out the wait for a deceased donor kidney at UCLA would be 8-10 years. My best bet was a living kidney donor.
My story ran on the news, the radio and on Facebook but everyone that got tested was not a match. It was hard not to feel discouraged and defeated a little.
Then one day Mike said we should move to Michigan to be by my family so we have more of a support system to get through this. He was willing to trade California sun for the bipolar weather of Michigan. I thought, he must love me. Next thing I knew we packed up our stuff, drove across country, and moved to Hudsonville Michigan.
I immediately started the transplant process at Mercy Hospital Transplant Center. I don't know if it was because I was home, all the support from Mike and my family, faith in God, or just the determination I found in myself to get through this, but I found hope again. I was going to get through this!
Then that Christmas, I received the greatest gift I could ask for. Mike told me he was going to get tested to see if he was a match to be a kidney donor and he turned out to be just that!
Three months later we had our kidney transplant surgeries and three months after that we got married in Santa Barbara, California on June 26th, 2016. It felt like a beautiful dream. With all the ups and downs and the endless complications over the two years we finally made it through.
Our story reached the Today Show and People Magazine. We hit our two year kidney-versary March 21. I am proof that you can get through kidney disease, that organ transplants are not just for the elderly, that there can be light at the end of the tunnel, and that there are people like Mike who are willing to give the gift of life.
There is a quote that carried me through most of this:
"Like is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
We grow through trials in our life and become the people we are meant to become because of those trials. So no longer do I pray to get off the roller coaster that is my life. I am thankful now for each and every good and bad day. I do not know where my story will take me next, but if it is anything like my journey so far, it will be one hell of a ride.