Transplant recipient marks 10th year with donated kidneyWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ten years ago, Kandy Takas of Millbury got the best birthday present she could have asked for — a call saying she was a match for a new kidney.
At the time — more than a year into dialysis, her own kidneys non-functional, and with six previous disappointments when available organs had not been matches — Takas had started to wonder if she’d be around to watch her toddler son grow up.
Today, John is a thriving teenager and Takas has a clean bill of health, recently celebrating her 10-year transplant anniversary the day before her 44th birthday on 10-10-10.
“It doesn’t seem like 10 years, but then I look at (John) and he’s much taller now, so I guess I judge it by his height,” Takas said with a laugh. “I lead a very, very full life I would say. Having a 13-year-old keeps you active, and I think that’s the biggest thing, being thankful for the gift of life, thankful to the family who said yes to organ donation, who has allowed me to watch him grow up.”
Takas spent most of her milestone weekend at Boy Scouts camp with John.
“I think that’s the greatest gift, to get to hang out with my son,” Takas said. “To me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what I would rather be doing.”
When she was diagnosed in 1999 with end-stage IgA nephropathy, a rare disease that attacks the kidneys, Takas was shocked. She was an avid bicyclist, in good health.
“I had no warning,” Takas said. “(John) was 2 at the time. We had just moved back here from Lima and I was still commuting to Lima for work. I couldn’t figure out why I was tired all the time.”
She attributed the fatigue to the long commute and being mother to a toddler.
“When you have a 2-year-old, you figure it’s just life, you’re just tired,” Takas said.
The breaking point came one hot July day when Takas was shivering under a blanket, unable to get warm. Her mom took her to the hospital.
“I can remember the doctor looking at me and telling me, ‘Your kidneys have totally shut down. There is no function whatsoever,’” Takas said. “I remember thinking ‘What are you talking about? I’m 32 years old, how can my kidneys shut down?’”
Healthy kidneys are the size of fists, but Takas’s had shriveled to the size of grapes. The doctor told her it was a testament to how good of shape she was in that she had lasted so long with few ill effects.
She started dialysis the next day — spending up to four hours a day, four days a week hooked to the machine — but after about two weeks, it became apparent a transplant was her only option.
“The doctor said ‘There’s nothing we can do, your kidneys are shot, you’ll need a transplant,’” Takas said. “So then my life started revolving around a pager; no one had cell phones back then. I carried it everywhere and waited for it to go off. When it went off, I went to the hospital to be tested and then came home to wait. So my life was in limbo.”
Unlike hearts or lungs, which go to the sickest person or the one farthest up the list, kidneys go to the person who is the best match. At least six times Takas got a call for a possible match and went in for blood work and testing, but each time someone else was a better match.
Finally — one year, three months and six days after starting dialysis – it was her turn.
On Sunday, Oct. 8, 2000, Takas was at the Woodville Mall with John when her pager went off. She called from the nearest pay phone — only to have John reach up and hang up the phone. When she called back, her coordinator said “Kandy, I think this one’s yours.”
That night, she was admitted for surgery. Her non-functioning kidneys were left in her body and the new kidney added, so Takas actually has three kidneys.
“The next morning, I remember the doctor saying, ‘The kidney is pink and you’re making urine,’” Takas said. “Urine is the prized element to a kidney patient … I got out of the hospital that Friday, and I’ve never looked back since.”
About a year after her transplant, Takas started volunteering with Life Connection of Ohio (LCO), a nonprofit that serves as a link between organ donors and transplant recipients. She shares her story at various events as a way to raise awareness about the need for organ donors. A single donor can save or enhance up to 58 lives.
According to Kara Steele of LCO, there are 108,580 people in the U.S. waiting for transplants, including 3,264 in Ohio. Of those, 86,254 are waiting for a kidney, including 2,456 in Ohio. A new person is added to the national waiting list every 11 minutes. There are about 210 people waiting for a kidney at the University of Toledo Medical Center.
“With that many people waiting, it’s just really sad,” Steele said. “People do die because the organ they need doesn’t come in time.”
In the last 10 years, more than 2,000 Ohioans died waiting for an organ transplant, according to LCO.
Takas knows how lucky she is.
“I will take anti-rejection meds for the rest of my life, but I’ve had no other problems,” Takas said. “I’m very fortunate … Knock on wood.”
Of her donor, Takas knows only that it was a male from the Maryland area.
“I did write a letter to the family, but never heard back,” Takas said. “I’m OK with that. It’s probably the hardest letter you have to write … You’re ecstatic, but they are devastated. How do you temper your joy with their sorrow? The biggest thing you’re saying is thank you, but how do you thank someone for giving your life back?”
Since her transplant, Takas has taken John biking, ziplining, rappelling, white-water rafting and paintballing.
“Now I try to live life to its fullest because you don’t know how short it really is,” Takas said.
John, an eighth-grader at Genoa, runs track, plays drums and is working toward his Eagle Scout award. He volunteers at LCO and the National Kidney Foundation alongside his mom.
“We’re so, so grateful that someone whose loved one died made that decision so we could go on with our lives,” Takas said.