World Kidney Day, which was marked on Thursday March 10, holds special meaning for Theresa Wood, 42, of Plattekloof, who gave up her job as an administrative clerk in 2012 after being diagnosed with kidney failure.
The physical and mental toll of undergoing dialysis four hours a day, three days a week while still having to work, was too much to bear.
But now Theresa is working again and has a second lease on life thanks to her younger sister, Christelle Snyman, who donated a kidney to her in October last year.
According to the National Kidney Foundation of South Africa (NKFSA ), 10 percent of the world’s population has some form of kidney disease. In South Africa, kidney failure in adults is mainly due to inherited hypertension or type-2 diabetes. According to the NKFSA’s latest statistics 8 840 South Africans were on dialysis in 2013, and 246 kidney transplants were performed.
Theresa has been a type-1, insulin-dependent diabetic from the age of 18. Complications from this chronic condition not only led to renal failure: she has also suffered mild strokes from high blood pressure.
After discussing her options with her nephrologist in 2013, she opted to follow an alternative-medicine route in the hope of improving her kidney function. Unfortunately, after seven months of strict dieting and herbal medication, her condition took a turn for the worse.
In January 2014, Theresa was admitted to the intensive care unit at Panorama Mediclinic, where a chest catheter was inserted for her to start dialysis. She was also placed on a transplant waiting list. But there were few compatible donors for her O-negative blood type.
As things looked increasingly desperate, Theresa and her doctors discussed the possibility of getting an organ donation from a relative. But she was worried about the impact that would have on the donor’s quality of life.
However, both her sisters were adamant they wanted to help and offered their kidneys. Their generosity, Theresa says, is something she will treasure for the rest of her life.
Christelle proved to a perfect match and the transplant was scheduled for October last year.
Within weeks of the operation, Theresa felt a dramatic increase in her energy levels.
“Not being on such a strict renal diet and being on fluid restrictions for dialysis has also made such a difference. With all my blood counts now being normal, I feel truly blessed,” she says.
She has started picking up weight and she’s a lot more alert and less pale. She can hang washing again. However she still faces some challenges. She takes immunosuppressive drugs to stop her body rejecting her new kidney and has to stay away from children who have had recent vaccinations or anyone with measles.
“Because of the immunosuppressive medication, your body has no way of fighting off germs or viruses, so I had to go on antiviral and antibacterial medication, as well as an antibiotic and cortisone tablets. Some of these medications are taken for the rest of your life.”
Theresa says her husband, Frank, has been her rock throughout the ordeal, remaining supportive and understanding and taking over household chores. “Without him I would not have made it this far.”
Frank says he is just relieved his wife’s operation was a success. “It is very important for the spouse to be supportive in the time of need. It took a big toll on Theresa, but I was there to support her, and do everything she was unable to do.”
“This transplant would not have been possible without this incredible gift from my sister,“ says Theresa. “Her unselfish act of love gave me the opportunity to live a normal life. I’ll be forever grateful to her and to God for this blessing. To Lindy and Dian (Christelle’s children), I just want to say your mom is a true angel.”
Christelle says the moment she heard Theresa was sick she knew she had to help her in whatever way she could. Theresa had urged her not to donate her kidney, telling her that her children needed her.
“That was always her excuse to me,” says Christelle. “In my heart and mind, it was just set out for me to do it. She is my sister and one of my mother’s children. Being a mother myself, I don’t want to see one of my kids die before me. I knew in my heart that I can do this and that God will be with us. I was never scared. I believe in God and this was Him telling me that this is something I have to do.”
When the tests revealed she could be the donor, she changed her lifestyle to prepare for the procedure. She stopped smoking and gave up alcohol and started eating healthy and trained fives time a week.
“It was hard at the beginning, but I knew that I am doing this for a good reason: to help someone and to change their life forever,” says Christelle.
“I can’t imagine my life, along with my children’s lives and my parents’ lives, without her in it. I would do this all over in a heartbeat. She means a lot to us all and does so much for each and every one of us in our family. This was just a little thank you gift for everything she does for us. She is just so amazing. She is an inspiration to me. She is a true fighter and she never gave up on life.”