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Freedom to travel after more than five years on dialysis

Patient Spotlight September 28, 2018 By Main Line Health

Genevieve Olivas had been on the waiting list for kidney transplant at Lankenau Medical Center for nearly five and a half years when she got the call. A member of the kidney transplant program team was telling her she was now number six on the list to receive a kidney from a 46-year-old heart attack patient.

Living with end stage renal disease, Genevieve had been sick a lot in the past year. “I was feeling more fatigued than usual,” she says. “I was just not feeling well. I was more forgetful, losing weight. My skin was getting ashen and my eyes got cloudy.” Genevieve had been on dialysis three times a week for three hours each session. She was on a stringent renal diet and her life revolved around when she would get her next dialysis treatment.

“A lot of times they tell you what type of donor it is,” she explains, regarding the waiting list process and kidney donor matching. “It could be an older person or someone with a health history you may not like. You have a choice about whether or not you want the kidney.” Not knowing if she would soon be moving even higher up the list, she said yes, she would like to be considered for this kidney. She was ready—and happy to know the donor was younger than she was.

Moving up the kidney transplant list while en route from LA to Philadelphia

Soon after hanging up the phone, Genevieve and her husband Jerome quickly finished dinner. They grabbed the bags they already had packed in preparation for this moment and headed for LAX airport in the middle of evening rush hour. Genevieve lives in Los Angeles but she’s originally from the Philadelphia area and her brother-in-law is an anesthesiologist at Paoli Hospital. Although she had started her dialysis in California, her husband had transferred to a job in Philly. It had made sense for Genevieve to be on the Lankenau transplant list as they had originally planned to move back to the Philadelphia area.

While on the way to the airport and trying to book a flight out of LA, she found out she had been bumped up to number two on the list. The transplant coordinator emphasized that she was still not guaranteed a match but Genevieve kept making her way to Philadelphia, knowing she could visit her sister for the weekend if the transplant wasn’t going to happen.

“Sometimes at the last minute when they look at the kidney, it might be injured or just might not work out,” Genevieve says. “I just said that’s okay, because if I got there the next day it would be too late.” They caught an 8:55 pm flight out of Los Angeles and arrived in Philadelphia without delays. “I’ve been asked what’s the secret to no delays, cancellations or lost luggage,” Genevieve laughs. “GOD, and bring only a carry-on!”

Genevieve receives a new kidney—and gives it a name

In Philadelphia Jerome ordered an Uber ride but mistakenly ordered Uber Pool, which is supposed to pick up other riders along the way. Genevieve was frantic trying to get the driver to understand the urgency of her situation and that they needed to get to the ER right away, the hospital was expecting them. “I totally freaked out on him, poor guy! And his ranking kept going down because he had to cancel other rides. Later on I Tweeted Uber to let them know what happened. I hope they raised his rankings again.”

When they arrived at Lankenau at 5:15 am, it was confirmed that the kidney donor and Genevieve were a match. About five hours later she was having a kidney transplant operation, performed by Carlo Ramirez, MD, assisted by Dr. Ahmed Safra, a senior resident.

Genevieve has since been discharged and is now recuperating at her sister’s home where she’ll stay as long as needed to make sure her body doesn’t reject the new kidney. She has named her kidney Angel (she learned from Dr. Ramirez that transplant patients often name their new organ), “because he saved not just me but another end-stage renal disease patient and probably others who needed organs.”

Even the 10-inch scar across her lower abdomen doesn’t bother her. “It’s a beautiful, clean incision and frankly, the most attractive part of my body. I love it,” she says, “and I’m peeing like a race horse.” After being on dialysis for so long, Genevieve had low urine output. “Anything I drank, I was swollen and short of breath because of fluid in my lungs.”

Life after kidney transplant

Although still on a renal diet, Genevieve is enjoying eating a greater variety of foods now and even indulges in soda, which she couldn’t do before. She certainly doesn’t miss having to take four giant pills with every meal or having to watch her fluid intake all the time. Her activity level is improving and she has more energy and greater confidence about her life. But best of all, she says, “Now I don’t have to worry about my next dialysis appointment.” Genevieve is planning to travel, first visiting her daughter who’s getting her master’s degree at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, and sometime after that to the Philippines to visit her father and father-in-law.

As for going back to work as a case manager for mentally disabled people, Genevieve is optimistic that she’ll get back to work in the next year or so, after she’s had plenty of time to adjust to her new kidney and to make sure her body tolerates the antirejection medication.

Genevieve encourages anyone reading her story to become an organ donor by checking yes on the driver’s license application. “It’s so important for people to realize how life-changing their donation can be,” she says of her new kidney and outlook on life. “It’s so freeing, and I couldn’t be happier.”