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DONATE LIFE: Kidney connections, Pt. 2

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The wait

By Kacie Goode

April is national organ donation month. This is the second in a multi-part look at how organ failure and donations affect those from Nelson County.

There are 118,000 people waiting for organ transplants, and about 6 percent will die before receiving the life-saving surgery. As kidney failure stemming from various disease and trauma is prevalent in the United States — making kidneys the most needed organ — one doesn’t have to travel far to find a person joining the wait.

Kristen Nelson enjoyed working with kids. It’s work that she misses, but dialysis and monitoring her health can be a full-time job in itself.

Nelson, 34, was first told she needed a transplant three or four years ago, but was taken off the list after her health improved. But in November, she became very ill. Like many, her renal issues stemmed from diabetes.

“As hard as you try, there are always complications with that,” she said. “Over the years, my kidneys got weaker and weaker,” now functioning at about 15 percent.

With her kidneys all but out of commission, Nelson relies on dialysis, a medical process for cleaning the blood when kidney function is compromised.

“When you get to the point right before dialysis, you get pretty sick,” Nelson said.

But in her case, it’s something she is able to do from home.

“It makes it a little easier to function,” Nelson said of the home dialysis, because it keeps her from having to travel several days a week to a clinic. 

The equipment arrived at Nelson’s Bardstown home Wednesday.

She must take care to avoid infection, and know how to operate the equipment manually, in case a power outage was to occur. Missing a dialysis treatment can have serious consequences.

Nelson has yet to meet with transplant officials in person, because a huge need can lead to a lengthy wait to truly get the process started. In addition to needing a kidney, Nelson also needs a pancreas transplant.

“Until you meet someone that needs an organ donation, of any type, and you watch this person die, you don’t really get it,” she said, adding that she became an organ donor after a family friend passed away while waiting for a transplant. “He would still be here if more people,” had registered. 

While Nelson may be new to the transplant list, the wait is something Nelson County native LaQuayia Goldring, who now resides in Louisville, is all too familiar with.

Goldring lost her first kidney when she was just 3 years old after a battle with Wilms’ Tumor, a kidney cancer that can occur in young children.

She could still function with one. But before she turned 17, she began experiencing pain on her right side. She was in the early stages of kidney failure.

In 2006, she started peritoneal dialysis, which cleans the blood using a catheter in the abdomen. It was a process she had to undergo for five months before receiving her first transplant on Feb. 4, 2007.

The transplant gave Goldring a new lease on life. A second chance. But, as can be expected with an organ from a deceased donor, the kidney only lasted about 8.5 years.

In 2015, Goldring was back in kidney failure, but this time, the wait would be a little longer.

Because kidneys filter the blood, compromised function can negatively affect other organs in the body, leading to a series of other issues.

Goldring went into heart failure with her heart functioning between 35-36 percent. She is inactive on the transplant list until her heart function can get up to at least 40 percent.

Dealing with organ failure has taken its toll on the 27-year-old, from changes in weight, limitations in what physical activities she can do, changes in relationships, and undergoing more than 25 surgeries.

“It’s been a test of my faith,” she said. “There are a lot of things I can’t do that I was doing before, like being able to play basketball, travel, or being with family. A lot of changes take place in your life when you go through kidney disease.”

But her experiences have also brought some inspiration, as Goldring is studying to become either a pediatric nephhrologist (kidney doctor) or a pediatric oncologist.

As someone experiencing organ failure first-hand, Goldring wants others to know that, while organ donation may seem a bit scary, “It does save somebody’s life and strengthens relationships between strangers, family and friends.”