Kathy & Alexis Beat the Odds Through Living Kidney Donation
"Jefferson is very supportive...You feel very well taken care of"
Although they attended the University of Pennsylvania at the same time—and even lived in the same dormitory—it wasn't until after graduation that Alexis James and Kathy Fidler became friends. It was around 2005 when the young women met through a mutual friend and soon struck up what has proven to be a strong and very special friendship.
Before befriending Alexis, Kathy says she knew very little about chronic kidney disease, dialysis or transplantation. But as she watched Alexis deal with 12 hours a week of hemodialysis, and learned that Alexis was on a waiting list to receive a kidney, she began to ponder how she might be able to help.
"I thought it was really frustrating that an otherwise healthy woman in her late 20s would have to go through that process," recalls Kathy, who worked with abused women and girls in the Philippines through the Peace Corps and later served as director of legal services for Philadelphia-based Women Organized Against Rape. "I learned more about the process and eventually told Alexis I would like to get tested to see if I would be a match."
Alexis helped Kathy connect with the Jefferson transplantation team, which initiated a series of evaluations and tests to see if she would be a viable donor.
"The medical testing and preparation were really comprehensive," Kathy says. "They gave me orientation material, and I was interviewed at every step of the process to ensure I was really suitable to be going through this."
Kathy also underwent a comprehensive physical exam, extensive blood work, and urine screenings to ensure that her own kidneys were functioning properly. And she worked with the transplant social workers, whom she says were invaluable in helping figure out how to make arrangements with her employer.
"By the time I found out I was a match, I was very serious about the whole thing," Kathy notes.
Alexis, who was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus as a teenager, had been through three years of dialysis before receiving a kidney from her mother in 2001. When she subsequently fell ill, she didn't recognize her symptoms as signs of rejection. Because she waited too long to seek medical intervention, she ended up losing the kidney and undergoing dialysis for four years.
Before the transplant, the Jefferson team administered a round of intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG, to Alexis to help desensitize her body—in other words, to help ensure that her body would accept Kathy's kidney. Indeed, with this second chance, Alexis has been determined to do everything necessary to make it work. So far, it has—and she is enjoying a life unencumbered by the time constraints of dialysis and the often crippling fatigue associated with poor kidney function.
Now 30, Alexis works full time for the University of Pennsylvania and attends school part time to earn a certificate in entrepreneurship. And, to Kathy's delight, Alexis is also making plans to travel abroad—something she wasn't able to do prior to the transplant.
"It's been amazing," Alexis says. "Jefferson is very supportive. They always knew who I was—even when I wasn't in there for months or years at a time. You feel very well taken care of." Alexis encourages others who are on dialysis to "not be afraid of the process." She says a transplant is definitely better, especially for young people.
Meanwhile, Kathy urges anyone who's considering being a donor to take the time to get educated: "Before I met Alexis, I didn't know anything about it. As I went through the process, I spoke with a lot of people who asked me questions that I'm sure come up all the time for prospective donors: 'Are you going to have dialysis? Can you have a baby? Will you be on a restricted diet or not be able to drink? Will your own life be shorter or otherwise impeded?'
"When you look at the statistics, the answers are quite reassuring. If I thought there was a major endangerment, I wouldn't have done the surgery. It's not to be taken lightly, but it's a lot safer than you might assume."
For more information about receiving a kidney transplant or being a living kidney donor, please call 1-888-955-TRAN.