It’s been one of the saving graces that my husband and I have – knowing that our son is still alive, and he is alive in four people.
To look at Jennifer, it’s hard to tell that she’s as sick as she really is. To most people who spend time around this real estate professional and single mom of three, Jennifer looks “normal.” But as she has learned, there’s nothing “normal” about chronic illness.
Jennifer was a healthy, happy, active thirty-something professional in 2017 when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called IgA Nephropathy. This condition harms the kidneys and can eventually lead to kidney failure. Thankfully, using a combination of steroids and chemotherapy, doctors were able to arrest the disease enough to put off dialysis. Then, Jennifer went on the kidney transplant waiting list.
Jennifer’s experience on the waiting list has been a lot like a roller coaster ride. In order to qualify for a kidney transplant, kidney function must decrease to 20% or lower. Ever since she was put on the list, Jennifer’s kidney function has fluctuated around 21%. For Jennifer and her family, this means that with each round of bloodwork, she may either remain on the list, or be taken off of it. She explains, “It’s an emotional experience. I have to prepare myself and my family for the possibility of major surgery only to be taken off the list again the next week and then put back on it again later.”
Jennifer admits that some days are easier than others. She lives as normal of a life as she can, and is still able to work regularly. Most of the time, she doesn’t “look sick.” In spite of that, she often feels drained. Naps are a common occurrence in her life to help her get through the day. Sometimes, she thinks about how healthy she used to be, how this illness was so unexpected, and how scary the prospect of surgery – or worse, not getting a kidney – is. But Jennifer has learned that the key to coping with her illness is staying positive. She chooses to be grateful and to be as active as possible. She emphasizes, “My disease doesn’t define who I am.”
Something else that helps keep Jennifer going on the tough days is her dedication and enthusiasm for serving others. She serves on the Donate Life Northwest board of directors and wants to help others who are living through situations like hers. She says, “I’m passionate about educating people about donation. Getting involved in the Donate Life community has been healing.”
Jennifer eagerly looks forward to the day when a kidney donor will give her health and energy again. She can’t wait to be able to travel again. And while right now, she has to limit her potassium intake, after her transplant, she looks forward to being able to eat bananas and avocadoes again.
Many people, Jennifer understands, don’t know much about organ, eye, and tissue donation because they and their families haven’t experienced it. But she encourages, “You should educate yourself!” She continues, “Registering makes such a big difference in people’s lives. You never know who it could affect – someone who has their whole life ahead of them, or someone like me who has kids. It makes all the difference in the world.”