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Local woman adjusting to life after kidney transplant

Prince George resident Sharon Kidwell talks about her experience with kidney failure and her new life with a functioning kidney.

One of  the first things one local kidney transplant recipient did when she got out of the hospital was get a strawberry milkshake.

For Sharon Kidwell, giving up milk was the hardest part of following the recommended renal diet after doctors discovered kidney disease when she was in her early 30s.

“I was so excited about that milkshake,” Kidwell laughed.

“Every time I ended up in the hospital I would always get the renal diet plan so after the transplant they put me on the regular meal plan and the first time I got that I actually took a picture of it because there was potatoes with the meal.”

Kidwell said you give things up because you have to.

“You don’t have a choice,” she added. “And you try to exercise as best as you can. You just have to adapt.”

But there was plenty of things she loved to do that she just couldn’t do anymore like downhill skiing. She tried to go skiing once when she was on dialysis but when she fell she hurt the site of her catheter used for her peritoneal dialysis so she knew she had to stop.

“I’m looking forward to going now,” she said, six months after her transplant. She’ll get back on the slopes next winter.

As part of the progression of the disease, Kidwell’s kidney function declined over time and she started to really feel it when function hit below 30 per cent.

Kidwell was on peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis for three years before she got the call for the transplant last November. The peritoneal dialysis was done at home for eight or nine hours every day so quality of life was very limited.

“At the time of the transplant, I was down to four per cent kidney function with dialysis,” Kidwell said. “Among other things, being constantly tired was normal, so was not feeling well and a lot of my day was dedicated to dialysis.”

With low-functioning kidneys that couldn’t clean her blood, Kidwell had to manage issues like high blood pressure and high potassium, sodium and phosphate levels with medication, diet and exercise, along with many food restrictions.

Being that sick interfered with her recreation and work life as she was not able to lift anything very heavy so when she went kayaking someone had to lift the kayak for her and at work she had to trade jobs with someone who could lift heavier items so she wouldn’t have to.

“Every time I hit a new stage or change in the disease it was a new hurdle to overcome,” she said.

More hurdles also presented themselves when it was discovered that Kidwell wouldn’t be as easy to match with a donor as most people.

To get a kidney the donor and recipient have to match blood types but antibody testing is also done.

“It turned out that I was highly likely to make antibodies against a newly transplanted kidney and attack it as a foreign body,” she said. “This lowered my chances of getting a kidney so I registered in the Canadian Blood Services Highly Sensitized Patient Program. I had a two per cent chance of finding a comparable match from across Canada and I was told it could take years. That was very difficult to deal with and my hopes waned.”

But hope came back when Kidwell got the call from Vancouver that there was a possible viable kidney donor match available to her.

“I was overcome with excitement and emotion,” she said. “Because I was in the highly sensitized category, the news came as a complete shock and I started shaking so bad I couldn’t even write down the instructions the doctor was giving me.”

Six months after the transplant Kidwell is still adapting to her new normal.

“I still can’t believe I can do things spontaneously,” she said. “Before this my whole life was planned around dialysis - every day was planned. I would suddenly have to leave people’s house at a certain time because I had eight to nine hours of dialysis to do in the evenings. So I had to be hooked up early enough so I could get up early enough to do what I needed to do. Now I can actually start a movie at 9 at night.”

She’s got some colour in her face now.

“And I used to always be freezing and now I’m not,” Kidwell said. “I’m still getting over it and I just can’t believe it. I don’t know how to express that it’s just - wow! I don’t have to go to the hospital - wow! I don’t have to hook up to dialysis - wow!  I can wear this outfit - I don’t have to find a way to hide tubes - wow!”

She's going to start traveling as soon as she can and the Caribbean is first on the list and then Ottawa, Italy and Greece.

"I'm going to travel the world," she tells everyone.

Kidwell got her new kidney from a deceased donor.

“I was truly grateful and humbled in the days before and after transplant,” she said. “Every day I wake up and look at the note the donor family sent me recently. I keep it right by my bedside.”

Kidwell is very grateful to her family and her workplace, Amigo’s Tacos, and her care team that included doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, dietitians and renal clerks.

She sought the support of the local BC and Yukon Kidney Chapter Foundation who are involved in supporting kidney patients in the community by providing educational sessions from experts, transplant donor information, peer support, and more recently, COVID information for this immuno-compromised population.

Kidwell would like to invite everyone to support this year’s Kidney Walk, which will be held June 6 with proceeds going to the Kidney Foundation.

The walk will be held virtually this year because of pandemic restrictions.

Strength, Hope & Courage is the Kidney Foundation motto and Kidwell certainly is a great example of that.

To register or donate to the Kidney Walk visit the new website here.

Money raised not only helps patients and donors here in Northern BC but also goes to grants and participation in research.

The Kidney Foundation encourages people to register to be an organ donor. Donors of all races, nationalities, and ages are needed to find best matches for this life saving treatment.

To register as a donor visit Transplant BC.