Woman struggles to find a live kidney donor

As her kidney health continues to diminish, Sandra Thomas waits to see if a matching live donor can be found for her.  - Kristi Dobson, Times
As her kidney health continues to diminish, Sandra Thomas waits to see if a matching live donor can be found for her.
— image credit: Kristi Dobson, Times

Kristi Dobson Alberni Valley Times

Finding a live kidney donor has been like searching for a needle in a haystack for Sandra Thomas. When she was in her twenties, was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease, a genetic disorder that was passed down from her father.

Although she was not surprised by the diagnosis, it has recently brought about an urgent search for a donor. The disease has affected ten family members on her father's side and she has witnessed its progression firsthand.

Four year ago, Thomas' father passed away from complications of the disease which affected his heart, something she hopes to avoid.

PKD causes cysts to form on the kidneys, which fill with fluid and enlarge the organ. From there, a person can develop high blood pressure and heart disease. The kidney functions also start to decline, which can be gradual or rapid. When the kidney is functioning at 20 to 15 per cent in an affected person, a live donor transplant is an option. Right now Thomas is at 20 per cent.

"I was at 25 per cent and then all of a sudden it dropped quickly," she said.

Although concerned about her own health, she was hesitant to reach out for help.

"The hardest and scariest part was watching my dad," she said. "I learned a lot from him and I know the things I have to do to protect my heart. He could never have been a heart or kidney recipient."

Two of Thomas' four adult children have also inherited PKD.

"I was most affected when it affected my children," she said.

Now that she is seeing a rapid decline in her own kidney function, Thomas is taking a proactive approach by searching for a donor. She has two main road blocks, however.

Thomas has Type O blood and requires a donor to be Type O for a match. Even more challenging is that her body has developed antibodies to protect itself, but in turn would reject a large portion of donors in the province.

"My antibodies would attack a kidney from 64 per cent of donors' kidneys, but that leaves 36 per cent I could use, so there is someone out there," she said.

At the advice of her network of professionals at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, where transplants take place, Thomas began spreading the word about her situation. She set up a Facebook page and had 16 friends and family step forward. Of the 16, only two made it through the end of the extensive testing. In the end, she found out her body would not accept those kidneys.

Thomas extended her search publicly with another online matching program and another eight people came forward.

"For now it is a waiting game but it is getting scary because my kidney function is dropping fast," she said. "It just takes time and I have to put it out there.

The alternative would be a lifetime of dialysis, which would not only affect her daily life, but employment.

"The beds in Port Alberni are full so I would have to travel or do dialysis at home," she said.

Thomas hopes to maintain her health as she waits for a compatible donor by staying hydrated and maintaining a special diet to control blood pressure.

Anyone who is blood type O and willing to undergo further testing as a match for Thomas can call the Kidney Pre-Transplant Program at St. Paul's Hospital at 604-806-9078.



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