Even at her sickest, Juana Hernandez believed in helping her family and community. With her donor's kidney, she has much more energy to continue serving those around her.
After 2 decades of kidney disease and several years of dialysis, Gloria received the gift of life through a paired kidney exchange.
Gloria’s life took a dramatic turn in 2000, when she was diagnosed with kidney disease. The newly divorced single mother of three already had a demanding job, a calendar filled with her children’s sports and activities, as well as her own regimen of three trips to the gym each week. And then, doctors added medication and dietary changes, which Gloria did while continuing to manage her very busy schedule.
At the end of 2015, Gloria’s nephrologist delivered some unwelcome news. She needed to begin dialysis. But there was no time for that! She was still working. And after the devastating loss of her dad to Cancer, her mother began to develop dementia, prompting Gloria to move in to take care of her. Gloria’s physical symptoms couldn’t be ignored, and so she visited numerous doctors and naturopaths, seeking ways to slow the progress of her kidney disease and stay off dialysis. It was to no avail, and in 2017, the dialysis portion of her journey began.
The years of dialysis and waiting on the transplant list were extremely difficult. Dialysis treatment itself is grueling – both physically and emotionally taxing. Her life was no less hectic than it had ever been. Now, Gloria also had three treatments each week and the tiredness, nausea, vomiting, and pain that accompanied them. 2020 brought multiple major blows on top of dialysis, when Gloria first lost her mother to complications of dementia and COVID, and then immediately contracted COVID herself and had to fight it while mourning her mother and coping with dialysis.
When Gloria had gone on the waiting list, she had expected that her transplant would come pretty quickly. It didn’t happen that way. But as the months passed, there were a couple of things that encouraged her. First, she attended an Erase the Wait mentorship program class, which helped her to create a website and video to share her story. And second, she met Alison. In December 2019, The Skanner in Portland, Oregon, published an article by a woman named Alison Wiley. Alison was a White woman who felt strongly that she should become a living kidney donor, specifically to a Black person. Gloria’s friend and then-board member at Donate Life Northwest, Balinda Olive-Beltran, brought the article to Gloria’s attention, and Gloria quickly reached out to Alison. Several of Gloria’s close friends and family members had been tested as potential living donation matches and had not been compatible matches. As it turned out, Alison wasn’t a match either. However, Alison did have an idea that changed everything. She suggested that the two of them join a paired kidney exchange program – there is one locally at Legacy Transplant Services in Portland. This would allow Alison to donate a kidney to a compatible patient in the program, and then Gloria would receive a kidney from a compatible donor in exchange. It worked! In December 2020, Alison donated a kidney on Gloria’s behalf, and in May 2021, Gloria received her lifesaving gift.
Gloria’s life has been transformed over the more-than 20 years since she first learned she had kidney disease. This is especially clear to her as she looks back at old pictures. In them, she sees a different person who was so sick. She says, “Dialysis was keeping me alive, but not helping my quality of life.” Now, thanks to Alison – who will always have a special place in Gloria’s heart, the paired kidney exchange program, and a generous donor, Gloria is healthy enough to spend time with her 4 grandkids and play basketball with her grandson. In 2022, she even joined a bowling team!
“It’s a huge difference,” she says. “My family is so overjoyed. They see a huge difference in me, in my energy level and being able to play with the kids. And just do the normal things that people take for granted.”
Gloria feels extremely grateful for her journey and her gift of life. Now that she has returned to a much healthier life, she is able to give back to her community by helping others in need of transplant as a mentor in the Erase the Wait program.