Katie Holland and Felesia Buczynski's Linked Patient Stories
A Courageous Woman Who Donates a Life-Saving Kidney to Someone in Need
Felesia Buczynski's left kidney donatio freed Katie from a life of painful dialysis, allowing Katie Holland the opportunity to live a life most would consider normal.
In November of 2005, after Mrs. Holland pushed through the illness she was feeling. She went to the went to the doctor's office to have blood drawn and figure out was wrong, and they found her true diagnosis to be much more severe. She was sitting at home on Saturday when I got a call from the doctor's office. The doctor told her to "Go to the emergency room - now. Tell them you have a creatinine level of 5.5. They'll know what it means." Her levels indicated that her kidneys were close to failing.
An ultrasound of Katie's kidneys revealed a genetic condition called polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. Instead of the smooth, fist-sized organs most people have, her kidneys were a discolored mass of fluid-filled cysts. Each cyst pressed on the kidney, reducing its effectiveness. A treatment plan of a new diet and medication helped bring her creatinine levels down temporarily. By 2010, doctors suggested grafting a vein from a cow into her arm to prepare for what would be a lifetime of dialysis.
Katie then began to confer with doctors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By the late spring of 2011, it was clear that no amount of medication would save Katie's kidney function. In June, the cow vein graft was put to use for the first time.
Her doctors had suggested that Katie begin asking friends and family about the possibility of donating a kidney. She could wait for a deceased donor, but the waiting list for one was already nearing 100,000. The average wait is more than five years, and more than 4,500 people on that list die each year waiting for a usable kidney.
Felesia Buczynski had met Katie a few times before, and they had become friends while appearing in Sampson Community Theatre plays.
"The first I remember was a female version of 'The Odd Couple,' " Felesia says. "I remember thinking she was a natural."
They met again when Katie worked at the Sampson Independent newspaper, covering community plays. That was before Katie required dialysis. Somehow, the topic of Katie's PKD came up, and when Felesia studied the condition on the Internet, "I was stunned that someone that sick would still be working," she says.
When Katie asked Facebook friends to consider donating, Felesia did something both typical for her - and completely out of character. Felesia says. "What it came down to is this: I could hang on to the kidney on the miniscule chance it might be needed somewhere else down the road. Or I could donate it now and help with the need right in front of me. To me, there was no comparing the two. I made the decision and never looked back."
Besides, Felesia had only agreed to be tested. The odds that she'd be a suitable match were thin. Siblings are, at best, a 50-50 shot. The odds of an unrelated person coming in cold and being a perfect match are literally a million to one. She didn't even tell Katie that she was being tested for fear of raising her hopes. Felesia sent a donor packet to Chapel Hill. Before long, she got a call. Her kidney scored six of six as a potential match - nearly perfect. The rest of the summer was a blur of paperwork, clinical visits and psychological tests.
The surgery, though classified as serious, is less damaging than in the past. Using laparoscopic or "keyhole" techniques, surgeons cut two small incisions in the donor's side, with a third cut across the lower abdomen. "I had already had a C-section, so they just used the same line," Felesia says. "They snipped the kidney free, slid it out the lower incision, and that was it." Doctors attached the kidney beneath Katie's nonfunctioning kidneys in a natural recess near the pelvic bone."There's apparently more room for it there," Katie says. "And that way, there was no reason to remove the old kidneys."
A few days later, both women were back home, Katie planning a future unimaginable a year earlier. There's still some fine-tuning of medications, and Katie will likely need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life. But, she notes, that's a small price to pay for freedom from dialysis.
"I want to encourage others to think about donating," Felesia says. "You can do nothing, and nothing will change, or you can make a difference. I don't want to be put on a pedestal. I just want them to look at why they wouldn't want to help someone else. I wouldn't want to go through life knowing I could do something but I didn't. They can look at me like I'm crazy, but what if it was their child? What if it was someone they loved? Would it seem so crazy then?"
Moral of the story: Find Your Voice in the midst of craziness, Speak Up when you feel you think something is wrong or you can make a difference, Raise Your Hand and volunteer to change someone's life, Make A Difference in the world as you know it.
*credits to The Fayetteville Observer for parts of the submission writer's stories