What happened to your kidneys anyway? (Or how Disney saved my life.)

“So, what exactly happened to your kidneys?”

It’s a question I have heard over and over again since June of 1996. Sometimes I wish I had a much more interesting answer. Maybe some sort of rare disease. An insane accident, where I lost my kidney function but saved a bunch of orphans and a few puppies. However, I do not have an interesting story. In fact, I don’t even have a definitive answer as to why my kidneys decided to rebel on me.

In the summer of 1996, right after my freshman year in college at the University of Central Florida, I got sick. Really sick. I started vomiting and couldn’t stop. My dad had just recently gotten some (amazing) insurance for me, so we went to a walk-in clinic, thinking I had a stomach flu. When the nurse took my blood pressure, her face turned white. She took it again. And then had the doctor come take it. It was reading at 190/110. Not terribly normal for an 18-year-old girl who weighed about 120 lbs. They had me lie down in a dark room and think calming thoughts. Asked me questions about my kidneys and whether or not I had had problems with my kidneys in the past (I thought they were crazy…although looking back, I did have symptoms, I just didn’t know I did.)

They suggested that I get to a doctor tout suite. Of course, being the wise 18 year old that I was…I stalled. For weeks. (Denial ain’t just river in Egypt, my friends.)  My main goal that summer was to find a fun job at Disney, make a little money, and enjoy my time off from school. Little did I know that was not to be the case.

I DID find that job at Disney though. I was hired as an Attractions Hostess in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. I was stoked! I couldn’t wait to get started. I went in to fill out all of my paperwork, and absolutely could not wait to get to work!  One of the papers was a medical history form.  One of the questions was, “Have you ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure?” Remembering my (somewhat) recent trip to the doctor, I checked “yes.” When the Disney powers that be read that, they said that I could not start work until I got a letter from a doctor clearing me to work. To say I was livid, is an understatement. But, I did what I needed to do, and went to my grandparents’primary care physician, thinking it would be cleared up in a matter of days. I was very, very, very wrong…

When I arrived to my appointment, my blood pressure was still through the roof. She asked me all of these odd questions. Did I have to get up a lot at night to go to the bathroom? (Well, strangely, yes.) Did I have headaches? Was I throwing up? (yes, and yes.) Dr. Plett decided to do blood work immediately. I was terrified. I had never had my blood drawn in my life. I literally bawled as the poor PA took my  blood. That is kind of humorous now, if you know anything about hemodialysis. I tensed so much that my arm was literally black from bruising for days. Little did I know that was the least of my worries.

I returned to the doctor’s office a few days later, still expecting to get my clearance to start my job and be on my merry way. I was so confident that I went to the appointment alone. Big mistake. The doctor sat me down and told me there was a problem. A big problem. My kidneys were not functioning. In fact, they were only working at about 15%. She immediately sent me to Florida Hospital. I still remember trying to get a hold of my dad. These were the days before cell phones. I remember using the phone in a spare office in the building and just dialing and dialing until I got a hold of him.

I don’t remember the ride to the hospital. I don’t remember the check-in process. I do remember having to call my mom on a pay phone to tell her where I was. I do remember my dad driving to Okeechobee from Orlando to pick up his ex-wife so they could both be with me. I do remember worrying about how they were feeling more than I was worried about myself. But what I really remember…what I really, really remember are these words:

“You are going to need a kidney transplant.”

What? What??? Eight words. Eight words that changed my life forever. Changed me forever. It hasn’t always been easy. In fact, much have it has been very difficult. But it has made me who I am. It has taught me so much.  Six months later I was on dialysis. Six months after that I had a kidney transplant. Craziness. But it is my life!

So, why did my kidneys fail? Well, that’s the kicker. No one knows for sure. The doctors are fairly certain that it was a strep infection that settled into my kidneys and slowly but surely destroyed them. (Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis…try typing that three times fast!)

I didn’t get to take that job at Disney. I actually had the worst summer of my life. But guess what? I don’t believe in coincidence, and it all turned out EXACTLY the way it should have.

So, that’s it. That is my origin story. I have tons more to share, but that is a start. So much has happened since that summer of 1996, and to be honest, I am thankful. I am a warrior because of the hurdles I have had to jump. I only hope that my experiences can help even one person who follows my story. Choose joy, my friends. We are here for a reason!