Transplant Nurse Shares Her Story as She Waits for a New Kidney

As a nurse, Heidi Prodehl has spent years caring for patients in need of transplant organs at Froedtert Hospital’s Transplant Center in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, but now the shoe is on the other foot. She’s currently on the waiting list for a new kidney.

As a child, she suffered from irregular blood sugar levels, so she spent most of her life going in and out of hospitals. She received a liver transplant at age 25. However, nearly 15 years later, the transplant rejection medications have started to damage her kidneys, so now she herself needs a transplant.

Thanks to her unique story, Prodehl is raising awareness for transplant patients by shedding a spotlight on what it’s like to wait for a new organ. Learn more about her amazing story and what it says about the current state of organ transplants.

Life as a Transplant Patient

Waiting for a new organ comes with plenty of uncertainty. As a transplant nurse, Prodehl is all too familiar with the daily struggles of transplant patients. Instead of having a doctor or surgeon take care of the problem immediately, these patients have relatively no idea when or if they will get better. They depend entirely on the transplant system, and there’s no guarantee that a new organ will ever arrive.

When Prodehl received a new liver back in 2005, she had to start taking transplant rejection medications, or anti-rejection medications, to make sure her new liver would be accepted by her body. Essentially, anti-rejection medications weaken the body’s immune system so it can’t reject the new organ, while still preserving the immune system enough to fight off everyday infections. Transplant patients often take high doses of these medications during the immediate aftermath of the surgery. They then take smaller doses as time goes on in order to re-stabilize their immune system.

However, these drugs often come with serious side effects, including:

  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Poor wound healing
  • Tremors, headaches, body aches
  • Hypertension and high blood pressure
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • High blood sugar
  • High kidney toxicity

For Heidi Prodehl, she mainly suffered from high kidney toxicity, which is why she’s currently on the waitlist for a new kidney. After 15 years of taking these medications, her body has had enough.

Rising Demand for Transplant Organs

Patients are waiting longer for organs than they did in years past. According to the American Transplant Foundation, there are around 114,000 people in the United States currently on the waitlist for a lifesaving organ transplant. Another name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. On average, 20 people die every day from the lack of available organs for transplant.

Demand for kidney donations has skyrocketed in recent years. Numerous medications can take a toll on a patient’s kidneys. One in nine, or 26 million Americans, now have kidney disease – and most don’t even know it. Liver and kidney disease kill over 120,000 Americans each year, more people than Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, or prostate cancer.

People in general, including organ donors, are also living longer than in years past, so patients might have to wait an extra 10 or 15 years to get the organs they need.

Standing Up for Transplant Patients

As a transplant patient, Heidi Prodehl is raising awareness for this important issue. She recently competed and won the National Kidney Foundation’s dance competition. As she told local news crews, “I don’t see myself as different or special in any way. I just want to keep on enjoying life.” She went on to say, “I want people to know that just because you received an organ or are waiting for an organ doesn’t mean that your life stops.”

As a care provider, you can remind your patients to sign up as organ donors. One deceased donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and can save and enhance more than 100 lives through tissue donation.

If your patients express hesitation, you can always take a moment to dispel several myths surrounding the donation process. For example, it’s not true that donors must pay for organ harvest services themselves, or that celebrities and famous individuals automatically receive special treatment if they are in need of an organ. It’s also not true that doctors won’t work as hard to save a patient’s life if they are an organ donor. Make sure your patients aren’t harboring any misconceptions about donating an organ.

Together we can all correct these myths to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to donating organs. Encourage your patients to sign up, so patients like Heidi Prodehl can get the care they need.

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