Anyone who has experienced a kidney transplant, or knows someone who has been through the ordeal, can attest to the trying experience.
For Lake Hopatcong, NJ, resident Alyssa O’Neil, she has not only had the arduous operation twice but now needs a third kidney transplant to save her life.
After O’Neil had a stroke at 18, the doctors diagnosed her with Systemic Erythematosus Lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs.
After 15 years, the condition led to O’Neil’s kidneys failing and she received her first transplant from a cadaver at the age of 33 circa 1995.
O’Neil’s kidney lasted approximately 12 years, but it started to fail, requiring a second operation.
“I was upset and not happy that I was going back on dialysis,” she said. “I knew what my life was like on dialysis. It really changes the quality (of your life), but I was optimistic that I would be blessed again.”
On December 7th, 2007, with a little more than two years of waiting, O’Neil, 45 at the time, wound up receiving a kidney from a living donor, her brother. Something she said was nothing short of a miracle.
However, the operation was an ABO incompatible kidney transplant, a procedure in which a donor’s blood type and the recipient’s blood type are not compatible.
With an ABO incompatible kidney transplant, you receive medical treatment before and after your kidney transplant to lower antibody levels in your blood and reduce the risk of antibodies rejecting the donor’s kidney, according to MayoClinic.org.
This surgery makes it possible for a successful outcome, with varying results, however.
But O’Neil said that after the transplant, the doctors found antigens–toxins or other foreign substances which induce an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies–in her blood.
“They felt it wouldn’t last, that it would start to fail,” O’Neil recollected. “But they weren’t sure. But I was fortunate that they were able to do an incompatible transplant.”
O’Neil said that the kidney lasted over 10 years, longer than the doctors expected.
Unfortunately for O’Neil, the 57-year-old is on a waiting list for a third kidney while undergoing kidney dialysis treatments three times a week, which, she noted, occupies five and a half to six hours, including travel time, with each session. Plus, not always feeling her best, to say the least.
Remarkably, O’Neil has managed to remain on the bright side of life, using prayer and life-affirming optimism to help lift her spirits.
“I just keep positive,” she emphasized. “If you don’t keep positive, if you feel sorry for yourself, it takes you longer to recover and bring yourself out of being sad. And it affects the people around you, so it’s important for me to be positive.”
Fortunately for O’Neil, she has a fighting angel in her corner, Donna Tissot, Tissot is a kidney donor advocate who she connected with through reading an article on the work she performed for a person who needed a kidney.
“She’s been great,” O’Neil said. “She’s selfless, too. She does this work for so many other people.”
So, why does Tissot put forth the tireless effort to help people obtain a kidney, most of whom are strangers at first?
“I had a goal when my brother-in-law needed a kidney, to find him a living donor,” Tissot explained. “Now, I am passionate in helping others find living donors, to give them the gift of life. She needs a hero to save her life.”
While there isn’t an exact number, because of factors such as age, a patient’s condition, and protein in the urine, among other elements, kidney transplant experts believe that the average life expectancy for a person receiving dialysis treatments is 4.25 years and only 23 percent of patients can live for 10 years.
Most medical experts point out that being a living donor isn’t as scary as most people would think.
O’Neil and Tissot encourage people to get tested to see if they are a viable candidate for the surgery. And if they are suitable for the producer, recovery time is around four-six weeks, per mayoclinic.org.
To help O’Neil and others awaiting a life-saving kidney transplant, visit the links below.
The New Jersey Sharing Network: https://www.njsharingnetwork.org/.
The living donor referral form: www.rwjbh.org/livingdonorreferralform.
Living donor website: https://www.rwjbh.org/ldi.
The NJ Sharing Network is a non-profit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for those in need of a life-saving transplant.
Nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents are currently awaiting transplantation, according to its website.
— Jerry Del Priore