Jefferson Health

Margaret Gets Second Chance at Life with a Kidney Transplant

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"Grateful to her nephrologist and the Jefferson Transplant team"

Margaret Coomber will never forget January 11, 1999. That was the day a Jefferson Hospital physician performed a needle biopsy that confirmed kidney disease. It was also when Margaret learned that she needed dialysis. But that wasn't when she began the process of receiving treatment.

Instead, Margaret—who was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa and immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s—went into months of denial. It wasn't that dialysis was an unknown for her. As a billing clerk for DaVita, Inc., Margaret had seen dialysis centers firsthand. She just couldn't accept that she would have to spend so much of her time hooked up to the machines.

"They told me I would feel better, but I said I'd rather die than go on dialysis," she recalls.

By the fall of 2000, Margaret was feeling much worse. On October 17, she went to Jefferson and had the arteriovenous graft implanted in her arm."At that point, there was no turning back," she says.

A mother of three daughters and now grandmother of one, Margaret began dialysis soon after but says she didn't allow herself to feel better for the first year of treatment: "I went three days a week for four hours at a time, but I wasn't talking to anyone at dialysis. I would go and then come back home and cry. I cried for a whole year."

In time, Margaret had what she calls a rude awakening: "I looked around and saw people who were on dialysis but didn't have eyes or legs. I stopped crying and said to myself, 'Margaret, there's nothing wrong with you.' I realized how lucky I was because on the days I didn't have dialysis, I could still get around and do errands."

Working with Jefferson, Margaret was evaluated and then placed on the transplant list. Knowing it could take up to five years to receive a kidney, she began making friends with fellow dialysis patients—arriving early for what became an ad-hoc support group in the waiting room.

She received several calls from Jefferson for possible organs, but nothing seemed to pan out. When her father died—and she was unable to get to Sierra Leone because of dialysis—her desire for a transplant became more pressing.

"I wanted to see my mother before one of us died," she explains.

So she talked to Jefferson nephrologist Dr. George Francos, who explained that her high level of antibodies made her challenging to match. But he also offered a desensitization treatment that might help her become a stronger candidate.

Even though she knew it wouldn't be easy—and there was no guarantee of success—Margaret says she jumped at the opportunity. After completing the treatment protocol, her antibodies reached a level suitable for transplantation.

Thanks to the desensitization treatment, January 8 now marks a milestone in Margaret's life. That's the day she received her kidney transplant—the day she refers to as "my new birthday."

She says for the first month after her surgery, she was terrified that she might lose the kidney. Now, however, she is very relaxed—and happy. She is also grateful to her nephrologist and the Jefferson Transplant team for this second chance at life.

"I'm really happy because I never thought I would live to see my grandchild," she says, adding that her mother called from Sierra Leone "crying, so happy." Margaret still hasn't returned to her home country but is saving up for the expensive airfare and hopes to go within the year.

In the meantime, she is enjoying feeling well and participating in the monthly support group meetings at Jefferson.

For more information about receiving a kidney transplant or serving as a living kidney donor, please call 1-888-955-TRAN.