by Claudia Bordo
(Ed. Note: Claudia Bordo, 61, was born and raised in South Philadelphia, but she has lived in Chestnut Hill for the past 20 years. Claudia was a much-loved employee of the Chestnut Hill Local from 2001 to 2010, when she had to leave for medical reasons.)
Waiting for a kidney that can save your life is no easy feat, and it’s not for the weak. How do I know? On a hot July day in 2009, I went to the Chestnut Hill emergency room, where the kidney specialist on call told me that I needed to start dialysis right away.
This was something I was trying desperately to avoid. I had gone to the ER because I couldn’t eat or drink for days. I was in total kidney failure, but I tried to keep my composure.
At 16 years of age I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the small intestines. Two operations left me often malnourished and dehydrated. Kidneys don’t like being dehydrated, and they form stones, which interfere with kidney function.
I cried through the entire first dialysis treatment. It lasted two hours. I don’t really cry too easily, but I never felt so sorry for myself. I knew my life would be affected negatively, and I was loving my life. I raised two adorable children and watched them grow into wonderful people who were enjoying successful careers while raising families of their own.
I had a great part-time job. I was in a good relationship and traveling twice a year with my four sisters. Life was good! From then on, however, I’d be hooked up to a big scary machine that takes the blood out of your body through a filter and then puts it back in. Yikes! I had to undergo dialysis three days a week for at least three-and-a-half hours each time, sometimes longer.
Add another half-hour to hook up and get off the machine, and you’re looking at a four-hour window where you are engaged in cruel and unusual treatment. It’s all so confusing because you realize that this machine is saving your life, but you still don’t like it.
My first time in the dialysis center in Mt. Airy was so depressing. That building is old, dark and worn out. I quickly moved to Flourtown, where they had just opened a dialysis center. It was new, bright and clean.
I went there for almost a year and then signed up to learn how to administer home dialysis. Home dialysis meant flexibility and comfort. A definite improvement, but I would soon learn the down side of this.
Since it’s a much smaller machine and a gentler treatment, I would have to do it five times a week instead of three. That sounded excessive, and I tried to talk my doctor into doing fewer treatments, but he didn’t approve.
You need a partner to learn and do home dialysis, so I brought mine. Michael, my companion, has always been a huge help, and he didn’t let me down. Lessons were grueling. There was so much to learn. After five weeks we graduated, set up shop in our bedroom and began the daunting process.
In the meantime three of my own four sisters and my two children got their blood tested to be potential donors. They all matched my blood type. How awesome! One by one, however, they all were eliminated for a variety of issues. The disappointment was awful.
Where there’s life, there’s hope. I resigned myself to waiting for a cadaver kidney. I was told that it can take up to five years. I carried on.
In August, 2011, I got a call from Jefferson Hospital, where I was registered on the transplant list.
They had a matching kidney. They told me not to eat and to report to the ER. After a long wait and many tests later, I was getting ready to go to the operating room. A nurse was starting an IV for anesthesia when the transplant doctor came over. He had just hung up from a phone call. The kidney was infected. The surgery was called off. What an emotional trip! Back to doing dialysis.
This spring I was getting calls again from Jefferson. Apparently I had moved up on the list. When you need a kidney, there are two waiting lists available, one for healthy kidneys and one for “compromised” kidneys. I had signed up for a compromised kidney because I was desperate to stop doing dialysis.
Some of the calls were for kidneys that were in pretty bad shape, but I said yes anyway. Those kidneys didn’t work out for me. Either they found a better match, or they weren’t in good enough shape to be transplanted.
Then it happened! On July 4th this year, of all days. My Independence Day! The call came in the early morning. They had a good kidney from the body of a 22 year-old-girl who had just died. I was told not to eat and to come over to Jefferson Hospital to give a blood sample.
The biggest concert in America was being held that day on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and lots of roads were closed. We drove down Broad Street from Chestnut Hill, gave the blood sample and made our way back home. I didn’t get my hopes up because I had been disappointed so many times before.
Luckily, many events were happening since it was July 4. Michael and I went to the annual Water Tower bike contest, for example. We love this affair and try to attend every year. It helped to keep our minds off the kidney.
We spent the afternoon waiting for the phone to ring. At 5:30 p.m. it did ring, and it was Jefferson Hospital. The voice on the other end asked how long it would take to get to the hospital. I said 20 minutes, which is impossible.
It’s more like 30 to 40 minutes, but I was so excited. I quickly packed a bag, and we were off. Down Broad Street again, but this time it seemed like forever.
Once in the ER, things moved quickly. I met my surgeon, a young, pleasant man with whom I felt comfortable. The surgery didn’t begin until 9:30 p.m., and it lasted until 4 in the morning. Out in the hall, in a chair, sat Michael for the whole operation.
All went well, and I stayed in the hospital for just five days. I never needed dialysis again, which shocked the doctors. Usually a just-deceased kidney that’s been through a trauma needs some dialysis and time to kick in. Not for me. I think I willed this kidney to work ASAP.
Confusion struck again. Feelings of happiness, joy and freedom were mixed with sadness for the donor, especially since my donor was only 22 years old. I pray for her and her family every day.
I feel so blessed and am anxious to help. I want to volunteer for the Gift of Life at 3rd and Vine Streets. It’s the oldest and largest organ procurement organization in the U.S.
I’d like to help raise awareness of organ donation. It’s so much easier to donate these days. In many cases it’s done laproscopically. That means that there is no surgery needed. So don’t hesitate; Donate!
You can contact Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org