Local Woman Waits For Kidney Donor
Brittney Smith's life is on hold as she waits for someone to donate a kidney.
Brittney, who will turn 21 this month, has suffered from CIQ nephropathy, a rare kidney disease, since she was a toddler. The kidney transplant she received 16 years ago from her father, David, is failing.
"Honestly," she says, "I've forgotten how it feels to feel good."
She undergoes dialysis three days a week, three hours each session. The dialysis machine cleanses her blood -- the job a healthy kidney should be doing.
Brittney comes home from dialysis completely exhausted.
"It's like their blood has been doing a complete work out, like running five miles," said Brittney's mother, Sandra. "Even though her body's been still, it's been working hard just sitting there."
Since she began her dialysis regimen in August, Brittney's life has developed a regular, colorless schedule -- wake up, bathe, drive to Sanford for dialysis treatment, eat and sleep. The Smiths, who live in Aberdeen, also drive to Chapel Hill about twice a month for additional treatment.
"You're pretty much booked with dialysis," Brittney says, "and then you want to go home and go to sleep. That's pretty much the life."
While her kidney was working, Brittney was able to attend high school, play sports and go shopping. But about five years ago, when she started to feel sick again, Brittney had to scale back her activities. She has taken a few classes at Sandhills Community College, but she hasn't been well enough to handle any kind of course load in the past few months. Each year without a healthy kidney, she has gotten worse and worse.
"I wish I were with my friends, hanging out," she says. "I wish I were going to school during the week I wouldn't complain about going to work if I had the energy."
Brittney's parents say her illness has taken its toll on the family. Her father is disabled, and Sandra works cleaning homes and baby-sitting. They take turns driving Brittney to appointments.
"Most of my life has been taking care of Brittney," her mother says, "taking her to the doctor, taking her to Chapel Hill It's just the strain and the burden and all of it."
While Medicare pays for Brittney's treatment and for some of the transplant costs, the Smiths' church, New Life Tabernacle in Aberdeen, has raised the money to help pay for her transplant surgery.
An ideal transplant match, her doctors say, would have either an A positive blood type (which Brittney has) or an O blood type and no health problems. Young people are the best kind of donors.
"If you're a young healthy donor that doesn't have any health problems identified, then it can be a very straightforward procedure," said Dr. Eddie Fuller, who runs the dialysis center Brittney goes to in Sanford. "Two or three months is not an unreasonable amount of time to get a donor identified and fully evaluated."
Brittney had hoped her aunt, and then her uncle, would be possible donors, but neither of them was cleared as a perfect match. Although Brittney is on a list in Chapel Hill for a kidney from a deceased donor, it could take up to five years for a kidney to become available. The fastest -- and best -- way to get a kidney is through a live donor.
"It is hard," Sandra says, "because they tell you in the beginning when you do the transplant that nothing's guaranteed."
The good news, though, is that if Brittney does receive a transplant, her life could change completely -- she'll be able to go back to school, spend time with friends, and maybe even fulfill her dream of becoming an interior decorator.
"After a transplant," Fuller says, "overwhelmingly, people rate their quality of life as being much better. Transplant at any age will double your life expectancy. Your risk of death of infection is higher on dialysis than after a kidney transplant."
So for now, Brittney continues with dialysis, spending her life in a dreary pattern of sitting and resting and waiting.
"Why does anybody have to go through this?" Brittney says. "Maybe I'm the person that can take this. A lot of people, they would just give up."
To that, her dad, David, says quietly:
"I'm not gonna let you do that."
Anyone seeking ways to help can contact Ann Litts, kidney transplant donor coordinator, at (919) 966-3079.
Katherine Evans can be reached at 693-2480 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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