The Challenge: Renal Failure
The trouble started in 2015, just before Maureen Hammond moved from Pittsburgh to Baltimore. During a routine gynecological exam, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
As if that news wasn’t daunting enough, shortly after she and her husband settled in Baltimore, Maureen found out that her kidneys were failing, too. She had end-stage renal failure and would need a kidney transplant as soon as possible.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around that at all,” Maureen says. “I had no symptoms. I felt like my old self.”
Already preparing to undergo a hysterectomy to fight her uterine cancer, Maureen now had to contemplate options for kidney transplantation in order to save her life.
The Path to UPMC: A Premier Transplant Program
When it came time to choose a transplant facility, Maureen looked no further than the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at UPMC. She had lived in Pittsburgh for over 25 years, managing the Designer Sportswear Department in Saks Fifth Avenue. During that time, Maureen had received care from UPMC and knew she’d be in expert hands. Plus, her mother and close friends still lived in Pittsburgh. It felt like the right decision.
“My husband had to miss a lot of work traveling back and forth from Baltimore to Pittsburgh for my appointments,” Maureen explains. “But whatever it took, he knew that’s what we needed to do.”
After Maureen successfully underwent a hysterectomy to combat her uterine cancer, she had to wait an additional two years before getting on the transplant waiting list. “I watched what I ate and tried to stay as healthy as I could in the meantime,” she says.
In January 2018, Maureen was finally cleared to get on the list. One of her husband’s coworkers came forward and offered to donate his kidney. UPMC has extensive expertise in living-donor kidney transplants, which help reduce the shortage of organs and allow people with renal kidney disease to receive a kidney transplant sooner. Unfortunately, the coworker wasn’t a good candidate for donation, which meant Maureen would need to undergo dialysis as she waited for another kidney to come through.
A few months passed when, two days before Maureen was scheduled to start dialysis, her phone rang. It was Maureen’s transplant coordinator at UPMC, who told her a kidney had become available.
“I was literally going to be on dialysis by the end of the week,” Maureen recalls. “Two days before starting, to get that call? Tell me that’s not a miracle.”
The Solution: A Kidney Transplant
The next afternoon, Maureen went to the hospital where she learned she was one of three potential recipients for the available kidney. She was subsequently prepped as though she’d go into surgery. After waiting in the pre-op room for a few hours, she received good news. Her surgeon, Michele Molinari, MD, came in and told Maureen she was a perfect match for the kidney.
The nurses started clapping and crying right alongside Maureen and her husband. “It happened so perfectly,” Maureen says. “I didn’t even have time to start shaking or think about the surgery.”
After the operation, Maureen had a new, functioning kidney and with it, a second chance at life.
The Results: Getting Another Chance
With support from her husband, mother, and transplant team at UPMC, Maureen is determined to make the most of her second chance. She received her kidney from a deceased donor and remains deeply grateful to him and his family. The decision to register as an organ donor is one she feels everyone should consider.
Maureen has noticed a significant change in her energy levels since the transplant. Before, a 10-minute trip to the grocery store made her so tired, she had to sit down before checking out. Now, her husband jokes that she has more energy than he does; she’s back to walking as a form of exercise and no longer needs to take constant naps. Though Maureen experiences some side effects from anti-rejection drugs – like losing her hair – she’s quick to put her situation into perspective. “I equate it to loss of hair versus loss of life – which would I rather have?”
She brings this new perspective into every aspect of her life. “Before, I was complaining about the smallest things in life,” she explains. “Now, I’m trying to look at the best in everything.”
The best in everything, for Maureen, includes her loving husband and a quiet, happy future together thanks to the gift of organ donation.
Maureen’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.