“There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your child to make them healthy,” said Lori Vargas about giving a kidney to her 15-year-old daughter Taylor. She never had any doubts, even committing herself to lose almost 40 pounds so that she would be fit enough to be a donor.
It was an impressive commitment, and it led to mom having one of her kidneys removed April 2 at Stanford Hospital & Clinics by surgeon Waldo Concepcion, MD, who then dashed over to Packard Children’s, home to America’s #1 pediatric kidney transplant program. There, Concepcion successfully implanted Lori’s kidney into a waiting Taylor.
It was a new beginning for Taylor, and a happy end to a dramatic story. A month before her 14th birthday in November 2011, Taylor was hit with sudden, flu-like symptoms and soon began vomiting blood. She was rushed to a local hospital in Watsonville, Calif., and then taken by ambulance to Packard Children’s, where blood tests and CT scans showed Taylor had end-stage kidney failure along with bleeding in her lungs.
She was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome. “It’s an extremely rare and life-threatening autoimmune disease, and it happens to previously healthy people without warning,” said nephrologist Paul Grimm, MD, Medical Director of the kidney transplant program at Packard Children’s. “Her body was attacking the filters of her kidney and also the blood vessels of her lungs.”
Lori and Taylor then began a long and exhausting medical journey, driving two-hours, four times a week, to Packard Children’s for kidney dialysis. Taylor had to endure multiple rounds of immunosuppressant medications and plasmapheresis, a process to purify the blood. It eventually became clear that the damage to Taylor’s kidneys was so severe that she would need a transplant.
“From the get-go, I planned on being Taylor’s donor,” Lori said. But to care for her daughter, Lori would first have to care for herself. She embarked on a diet and fitness regimen to meet the health standards required to be a living organ donor, losing almost 40 pounds in less than a year.
“I think my mom is beyond awesome,” Taylor said of her mother’s decision to donate.
To receive her mother’s kidney, doctors had to be certain that Taylor’s immune system stopped producing the deadly Goodpasture antibodies — so there would be no danger of her body attacking the new organ. Plus, she needed to be steroid-free for six months, thus pushing the wait into 2013.
Despite her long wait and treatments, Taylor never lost her cheerful demeanor, becoming buddies with her rheumatologist Nina Washington, MD, and nephrologist Orly Haskin, MD. She also devoted herself to her studies via dialysis unit teacher Katie Fennimore and a “Taylor”-made Individualized Education Program, and kept up with her artwork. “The care teams at Packard Children’s treated me like a normal person instead of a sick kid,” she said.
In the meantime, Lori got the “thumbs up” on February 6 to be a donor. Taylor crossed the finish line of being steroid- and antibody-free this spring, thus being healthy enough for the April transplant. A big bonus: After plasmapheresis and a strict medication regimen designed to get rid of the antibodies in her blood, Taylor’s lungs have fully recovered.
Now, as Taylor and Lori are happily back home in Watsonville, Calif. Taylor is focusing on the dreams that mom’s kidney has made possible. She’s got a very busy career ahead, which includes dreams of becoming a bilingual animal rights activist, a yoga teacher and a police officer. Her short-term plan? Hitting the waves: “I’m looking forward to going to the beach and finally being able to swim,” said Taylor, who couldn’t swim because of a hemodialysis catheter in her chest that is now gone. “I can’t wait for my freedom,” she added.
It’s a freedom she’ll always treasure, thanks to advanced medical care and a very loving mom who would do the same thing again and again — and not just for her only child.
“If I had more than one kidney to donate,” said Lori, “I’d keep donating to other patients at Packard Children’s. Taylor and I really know what these kids on dialysis go through while waiting for a new kidney, and I’d like to provide this gift of life to every one of them.”
- Winter Johnson
- more by this author...