My storys begins with a routine camp physical when I was twelve years old. My mother asked the doctor to check for anemia, as I had always been very pale. The results came back that I was indeed anemic, but more concerning - I had only 15% kidney function. Everything happened pretty quickly after that, and I had my first kidney transplant from my father when I was just 13 years old.
Life for any transplant patient is difiicult - I had to take over 30 pills a day, and struggled with worrisome side effects. However, I reacted even stronger to the powerful drugs that knocked out my immune system than most people. I developed osteopenia, a weakening of the bones, cataracts, and muscle weakness. Steroids caused weight gain and facial hair, pretty devastating to a teenage girl. By far the most debilating were the viral warts that appeared on my foot. I'm not talking one little plantar wart - my entire foot was covered solid. I had over a dozen laser surgeries to remove them, leaving me with second degree burns. Just as soon as the skin would heal, the warts would grow back. I could barely walk, and had a handicapped permit all through college.
At the same time that I was struggling with all the side effects, I was losing my kidney. Another kidney transplant was necessary, but the thought of more side effects from more medications was too much to bear. My mom learned of a research study that was going to start, giving patients who needed a kidney transplant a bone marrow transplant as well, allowing them to stop all medications. It had never been done before, and they were looking for a first. I wanted it to be me.
I was the first person in the world to have this procedure in September of 2002. I had chemotherapy, radiation, and a dual bone marrow/kidney transplant. I was slowly weaned of medication and this fall will be my ten year anniversary. The warts disappeared, though some of the side effects (ostepenia and avascular necosis) stayed. In that ten years, this girl that had a handicapped permit in school, that was worried she would never walk again, has now competed in triathlons, run several marathons, over a half dozen half marathons, and captained the US Swim team at the World Transplant Games in the Gold Cost, Australia as the top female athlete for the United States.
I've also taken up hiking, and hope to cross off the 48 4000 footers of NH in the near future. Since I was young - before I learned that I was different, that maybe my life wouldn't be what I thought - I've wanted to go out west, specifically the Grand Canyon. When I heard of this trip, it was everything I could ask for. Challenging my new found health, in the most beautiful and awe inspiring of settings, with a passionate and inspiring group of women like myself. I can't begin to express how excited I am, and how thankful I am to Project Athena for giving me this opportunity. Since I was the first to have my procedure, I don't know what the future holds. I could wake up tomorrow and be that sick girl again. So, I'm doing everything while I'm able, taking nothing for granted, certainly not my health.