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49. #50YearsofTransplant: Teresa Atkinson

Teresa is a 3x kidney transplant recipient. In August 2015, she received an extraordinary third gift of life which she considers her miracle kidney. Teresa shares how kidney failure has taught her to better appreciate each day as a gift.
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​Can you tell us what led to you needing a transplant?

“In 1984, I was a young woman at the beginning of adult life. Happily married for a couple of years, I was enjoying the adventure of life and looking forward to having a family but there was no rush.  Suddenly and without any warning signs, my life took an unexpected turn and I crashed into kidney failure at 22 years old.

It all began one fall weekend while visiting family. I woke up in the middle of the night throwing up thinking I had the flu. My mom heard me and came to see if there was anything she could do. Ss she was tucking me back into bed, I remember reaching for the blankets and my arms wouldn’t extend. I watched them jerk back towards me on their own accord and the next thing I remember is waking up in Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) ICU. After this, my life went along as normal as possible doing ‘dialysis exchanges’ four times a day.” 

What was the day like when you found out there was a match for you?

“I was sitting at the table just having finished dinner with my soon to be second husband and the phone rang.  I heard, ‘Teresa we have a kidney for you.’  I tell you this was the most magical phone call ever, because I thought after six long years, the wait was finally over.  Off we went to VGH for the surgery. When I awoke, the kidney was producing some urine but not enough. There wasn’t an overall positive difference health-wise and there were a lot of drugs and many episodes of rejection. It wasn’t long before I was back on dialysis, and getting sicker. 

It was at this time, that my sister came forward and decided to donate one of her kidneys to give me another chance. I must admit, I was skeptical about taking it after my first experience with transplant but eventually agreed.  

When I awoke from this second surgery I had color, energy and wanted a steak (which of course took a few days before I could eat it). I had forgotten what wanting to eat felt like. I had no idea just how sick I really was, until I was better. I truly believe my sister’s kidney saved my life as it gave my body a much needed break from dialysis.”  

Have medical advances affected your experience throughout your transplant journey?

“A new pilot study was introduced to me by my medical team called ‘nocturnal dialysis’, where you have a hemodialysis machine in your home and hooked up for eight hours while you sleep. This treatment hoped to provide a more normal kidney function. The day I got called to participate, I was over the moon.  It would take more work and extra effort but it sounded promising.

It didn’t take long before I was feeling great. The fog cleared and I could think again. I had better energy and I remember for the first time in a long time, actually wanting to get out of the car to walk up to a waterfall. And I had the energy to do it. I felt well most days and only occasionally had a down day and my blood work proved to be closer to having normal kidney function.”

Can you explain the process of receiving your third kidney?

“On my third visit with the transplant clinic, Canadian Blood Services was just establishing a ‘highly sensitized’ program for people like me and there was a small chance to find a kidney for me. Medicine was improving and with my access issues, I was advised to try again. Even though my previous experience with transplants had not been great, it was time to try again (or run out of dialysis veins), so back on the list I went.  

This time the call came when I was checking out at the grocery store. The experience was not like the previous times; I had no worry or fear.  For the first time ever, I actually relaxed and quit worrying if a miracle had found this kidney for me. I just had to let go, trust and just let it work.  

I came through the surgery fine and felt pretty good when I woke up but the kidney was a slow starter.  I did dialysis for a couple of weeks until it finally woke up and started working properly. My third miracle kidney is rock steady and plenty to keep me from dialysis.”  

How are you feeling today as you reflect on your three kidney transplants?

“I am so very grateful for all the bonus moments I get to spend with family and friends. I am truly blessed to have received this third miracle transplant gift from someone who had the foresight to register their wishes regarding organ donation. Please register your wishes today!”   
50in50; BC Transplant
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