Kidney transplant recipient: ‘I feel like a new person’

Doctor reviewing kidney transplant on a computer screen with a patient

When Joann Kveum and her identical sister were born in 1965, they had the same birth defect called reflux nephropathy that kept their kidneys from working normally.

Instead of the urine flowing directly to the bladder, some of it flowed back toward their kidneys. Today, it would likely be fixed by a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure.

However, when Kveum, 52, was diagnosed in 1972, there weren’t as many options available to treat her condition. She did eventually have a procedure done to fix the birth defect, but by that time she had already been diagnosed with renal disease and her kidneys were severely damaged.

“Kidneys don’t repair themselves,” said Kveum, a mother of four girls who lives in Westhope, North Dakota, and a nurse at the local clinic.

Her sister did receive a kidney transplant when they were 18 because her kidneys were much more damaged. Since Kveum’s condition wasn’t as severe, she wasn’t in need of a new kidney yet, though doctors continued monitoring her.

As time passed, she began feeling weak and tired and discussed her options with her doctors. She began seeing Nadim Koleilat, M.D., a transplant surgeon at Sanford Clinic in Bismarck, North Dakota, and was placed on the kidney transplant list. After many appointments and tests, Kveum found out that her 21-year-old daughter would be a good donor match for her.

“Then hours before the surgery they called us and said it just isn’t going to work. It won’t be a good match,” she said.

At first Kveum was a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be getting a new kidney, but at the same time she was relieved.

Kidney transplant: Finding a match

“In the end I was happy, because she (my daughter) got to keep her kidney,” Kveum said.

Two months later, she received a call that there was a kidney available from a deceased donor and that she was fourth on the list.

“I figured, three people in front of me, who’s going to turn down a perfectly good kidney? Well they did,” Kveum said.

Finally, after years of doctor appointments and dozens of tests, she received a new kidney in June 2016.

“With renal disease, you don’t realize how bad you feel until you feel good,” Kveum said.

Today, she is living a happy, healthy life and Dr. Koleilat says she can expect a much smoother road ahead.

“Everything is normal as long as she takes her medicines so that kidney won’t reject,” Dr. Koleilat said.

In the United States, more than 100,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant.

“Our average is 20 kidney transplants per year. The highest number we’ve done is 28 kidney transplants at Sanford Health in Bismarck,” Dr. Koleilat said.

And Kveum is glad her name has finally been pulled from the donor waiting list.

“I encourage everyone to think about becoming a donor. “So many people benefit from the generosity of these donors,” she said.

According to the American Transplant Foundation, another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. To register as an organ donor, visit donatelifemidwest.org.

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Posted In Health Information, Healthy Living, Transplant

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