Ella’s Kidney Transplant Journey, a Mother’s Day Story

Ella Chamness (14) from Menlo Park, CA is working towards her Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest honor a Cadette can achieve. To reach her goal, Ella is focusing on an issue she is passionate about and is taking action to make a difference. For Ella, a kidney recipient, that issue is organ donation. She is sharing her transplant story below this Mother’s Day to inspire teens to register as organ donors and to dispel the myths surrounding donation.

Just before my second birthday, I was diagnosed with a urological condition that increased my chances of getting urinary tract infections. It turns out that all of the “colds” and pneumonias that I had as a baby were most likely undiagnosed kidney infections. While it was good to finally have an accurate diagnosis, it came too late. The damage was done; I had stage III renal disease as the result of kidney scarring from the undiagnosed kidney infections.

Kidney cells are like brain cells in that they do not regenerate so for the next six years, we managed my declining kidney function by hydration (up to 3.5 liters of fluid a day – that’s the same as drinking 3 and half bottles of soda), blood tests, avoiding foods high in potassium and medicine. Even with the intense follow-up by my doctors and family, my renal function continued to deteriorate; I couldn’t keep up with my friends when we played games, I had trouble concentrating in school, and at night I was connected to a feeding pump via g-tube to supplement my nutrition and to meet my daily hydration goal. Even with all of these measures at the time, I wasn’t aware of how serious my condition was, I thought that all kids my age went to the doctor’s office as much as I did.

By the middle of 1st grade, my kidney function was so poor that it was time for me either to start dialysis or to get a preemptive transplant. I was lucky because my mom volunteered to be my donor. The donor screening process is very thorough; this meant that it would take a long time to see if my mother was a “good match” to be my donor. So, my transplant team also “activated” me on the transplant recipient list while my mom was evaluated. I didn’t realize how involved the donor work-up process was but my mom says that it consisted of many tests (blood, urine, MRI, etc.) to ensure that she was healthy enough to donate to me. It must have been really stressful for her to do this while taking care of me and my baby brother at the same time. Fortunately, she passed all of the tests and the transplant was scheduled.

The transplant was a success! I now live like a normal kid, eat whatever I want, don’t have to drink as much water (but still enough to be hydrated), and I learn in school more easily than I could before transplant.

As my mom, Lara, says, “Ella’s transplant was literally life changing for her and our family. Pre-transplant life was filled with many restrictions and countermeasures to stem her declining renal function. Even with all of that effort, her kidneys continued to deteriorate and it was really difficult to watch her struggle with things the rest of us take for granted. The transplant has helped Ella to regain her spark and has set the foundation for her to become the amazing young lady that I always knew she would be.”

A transplant gave me a second chance at life and I intend to live my life to the fullest. But others aren’t as lucky as I was, as many as 22 people die every day waiting for a transplant and every 10 minutes another person is added to the waiting list. More people are needed on the organ and tissue registry. You can make a difference in someone’s life by becoming an organ donor. You can bring hope to those on the waiting list and the families that love them by registering today.