In December 2019 Chelsea submitted a 23andMe test and discovered she had a cousin and uncle she’d never known. A reunion was planned and relatives from far and near made the trip to Sacramento to celebrate and meet “new” family members.
As exciting as it was to rekindle and begin relationships over the holidays, another new development brought even more joy to Chelsea and her loved ones. Just weeks earlier Chelsea had left UC Davis Medical Center with something very precious. The kidney transplant she’d been hoping for since 2017.
The transplant really brought us together,” Chelsea recounts. “It was a reason for us to meet, and our family came and helped us out (as Chelsea started her recovery). They stayed and helped us for a week. It was amazing.
For regular Atlas readers, Chelsea’s name may be familiar. Parts one and two of her story, in which she shared the challenges and successes of her lifelong battle with kidney disease, were published on Atlas in 2019. Later last year Chelsea received a phone call that would once again change her life.
It was about 11 p.m. and I was lying in bed waiting for a call from my doctor about a prescription,” Chelsea recalls. “The phone rang and it was UC Davis. They said, ‘We have an organ for you!’
The next morning at 6:30, after being up all night with nervous excitement, Chelsea arrived at the hospital. She had been down this road once before and the kidney had not been a match, so she tried not to get her hopes up too much. But after the testing was complete, there was more good news. They told her to be prepared for surgery at 5 p.m.!
Three hours later, Chelsea had a new kidney. Four days later she was home, with a lengthy scar and lengthier list of prescription medications.
“Eighteen medications every day!” she remembers. “I felt overwhelmed. We needed a blackboard system just to keep them all straight!
Chelsea says she felt a tremendous feeling of relief following her transplant, but she wasn’t “out of the woods” after surgery. Cadaver kidney transplants can sometimes function slowly at first, and the patient may require a short stint on dialysis therapy (usually 2 to 4 weeks) to get things going. Chelsea said her kidney was “a little sleepy,” so she remained on home hemodialysis (HHD) for another month.
“The day I sent my NxStage System back I was so excited,” says Chelsea. “We took my dialysis room and turned it into a home gym. We’ve got yoga mats, dumbbells, weights, an elliptical machine, and a stationary bike. Now that we can’t go out (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), it’s been kind of a win-win.”
Although thrilled to be off dialysis and have more time in her schedule, Chelsea believes more frequent dialysis contributed to her preparation and readiness for transplantation.
More frequent dialysis helped me stay healthy enough to receive a transplant… It’s a big deal, and that’s what I want people to know and take away.
Chelsea’s biggest personal goal post-transplant is to travel. Though she and her husband Mark took trips to Hawaii and other locations with her NxStage cycler, she looks forward to time away without the added equipment and scheduling that therapy brings.
Beyond that, she continues to advocate for kidney disease patients through social media, and as a newly hired NxStage Patent Consultant, a position that will allow her to share her experience with people considering HHD.
“It’s important to educate people about their dialysis options,” she says. “Lots of people don’t have the resources and don’t know where to find them. I just want to help people that are in the same position as me. There are so many, and the population continues to grow.”
Another way Chelsea and her husband Mark are trying to help is through an accessory they created using a 3D printer. To prevent the irritation Chelsea got from taping her lines to her skin, Mark came up with a flexible cuff that keeps things in place without the need for an adhesive. Chelsea and Mark are currently exploring whether this cuff could be useful to other patients.
At nearly 5 months post-surgery, Chelsea is excited to set and achieve new goals and go back to the life she knew before her kidneys failed. She says the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on really embracing her newfound freedoms, and, given the times we live in, offers this advice.
I want people to know that transplantation is not a cure, it’s a treatment… But if you keep yourself healthy and follow your doctor’s guidelines, you could have a successful transplant, or a successful dialysis experience. But you have to do your part.
Chelsea is a contracted Patient Consultant with NxStage Medical. Not all patients may experience these benefits.