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My name is Jennifer Swanepoel and I am mom to two VERY busy young adults!  Our lives were hectic at the time I was diagnosed with Chronic kidney disease in July 2015. My son was doing Matric, my daughter was very involved at school, I was running my small business and there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to do all the things that needed doing!  I found myself struggling more and more to get through each day.  The fatigue and headaches were debilitating, but I wrote it off to stress and a bad diet.

I found myself in the ER one Saturday morning, as pain relief wasn’t working and I felt nauseous and dizzy.  My BP was through the roof and my creatine levels were very elevated.  Five Days, a lot of blood work, scans and a biopsy later, the diagnosis was IGA Nephropathy.  Cyclophosphomide and high doses of Prednisone were the order of the day and I was told that somewhere in the future I would need dialysis or a kidney transplant. My children, my sisters and even some friends offered their kidneys when the time came.  I said “thank you”, never thinking that I would ever have to take someone up on this life saving offer.

I tried to carry on with life as usual, more out sheer will than the physical ability to do so. And I was ignorant; I wasn’t as much in denial as I was uninformed. Only after lots of research did I realise the seriousness of my condition. A lot changed after that, my diet, my confidence, my sense of security. There was a lot of pressure on my children, they also changed.

Fast forward 14 months. I started Haemodialysis, twice a week, 4 hours at a time. My middle sister and I started the workup toward transplant. She lives in New Zealand and had to have all the tests done there. It was the most surreal thing, thinking that I would have to have my sister’s kidney in my body so I can live. There was never a moment during all the many times I asked her if she was sure, that she hesitated. My brother in law confirmed her decision more than once.

Dialysis was terrible. I would lie on that bed and watch the blood flow through those tubes, filtering my quality of life with it to a watered down existence. I would get so sick during each session, severe headaches, nausea and weakness dominating my days. My 16 year old daughter had to take on so many extra responsibilities at home.

My sister and I were a 7/8 HLA match. The bad news, I had very high donor specific antibodies. This meant that I would have to do plasma exchange to remove these and only if successful would the transplant take place.  A cadaver transplant wasn’t an option for me, due to the high risk of acute rejection. The waiting list is 5-6 years; I wouldn’t live that long though, as my vascular access for dialysis kept failing. I was on catheter no 4 in 9 months. This reality was overwhelming.

On 9 May 2017 I received the greatest gift on earth. My sister selflessly gave me her kidney. I wasn’t the only one on the receiving end. She gave my mother her daughter, my children their mother, nieces and nephews their aunt and so on. The magnitude of what she has done is indescribable!

I am 13 months post transplant. I am healthy and have come to realise just how sick I really was before receiving my sister’s kidney. My sister is healthy and fit and furthering her studies in the medical field.

Not everyone reading this will feel moved to become a living donor and that’s okay. But it is worth doing proper research and becoming more educated if you have a loved one in renal failure. My sister told me right in the beginning that the decision to donate her kidney was partially selfish. She said that she couldn’t imagine a world without me in it. This gift came from a place of love.

Think about it…you might just be able to tick ‘SAVE A LIFE’ off your bucket list.

Please Talk about, Register and Share your decision to be a potential organ and tissue donor.

Jennifer Swanepoel

1 Comment

  1. Anne Ward

    What a beautiful story of two beautiful people. Thank you for sharing the details of your pain and victory over nephropathy. I have been impacted by the fact that there are brave and selfless, altruistic people like your sister and you too, Jennifer who went through so much and can write in such an optimistic way.

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