Five-year wait for a kidney
After keeping her life-threatening illness a secret for more than 10 years, a young Taranaki woman is now sharing her story in the hope of encouraging more people to become kidney donors.
Until recently only Danielle Pemberton’s close family knew she was battling chronic kidney disease.
She was diagnosed at just 15 when her kidneys were functioning at 30 per cent; they now function at four per cent. Her kidneys are failing.
Recently, in hopes of encouraging more donors, she took to Facebook to share her story for the first time.
‘‘They just look at you different when they know and feel sorry for you, but that’s not what I want. I have just got to stay positive,’’ she said while undergoing dialysis at Taranaki Base Hospital.
Pemberton sits hooked up to a dialysis machine three days a week, four hours a day.
She will continue to do so until she gets a kidney transplant. The average wait is five years.
Around 2750 Kiwis received dialysis in 2016. It keeps people alive when their kidneys fail by cleaning and filtering blood and removing excess fluid.
At 28, Pemberton is significantly younger than the median age of kidney transplant recipients, which is 50.
There were 187 kidney transplants in 2017 – 69 were live donor transplants and 118 kidneys came from 73 deceased donors.
More than 400 people are on the kidney transplant waiting list, but only around 100 kidneys are donated a year, according to the Ministry of Health.
But ticking the donor box on your driver’s licence isn’t enough, as family have the ability to overrule, Pemberton said.
‘‘By the time they find your licence you’re already in the ground. Have that chat with your families and make it clear you want to be a donor.’’
For some people being a live donor is one of the best things they have ever done.
Pemberton first went to the doctor when she kept getting gout. It took a while to figure out it was chronic kidney disease as it was rare for people her age, she said.
She began taking medication for the gout but other than that, carried on as a normal teenager.
‘‘At that age you sort of drink a lot and I didn’t change anything.’’
At 22 she planned to move to Australia, but the week before she was told her kidneys were functioning at 20 per cent. Doctors said she wouldn’t make it past 40 if she refused treatment.
But, wanting to carry on living a normal life, she went anyway and stayed there for seven years.
At the start it was fine: she stopped drinking alcohol, took her meds, and looked after her body. But soon enough she couldn’t ignore it any more.
She was tired all the time, itchy, couldn’t think straight, dehydrated, and in and out of hospital all the time.
Her body couldn’t fight infections like it was meant to.
So last year she moved back to New Zealand to be close to her family and start dialysis, which she undergoes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
It’s a boring process, she said, but one made more bearable by the other patients surrounding her. A nearby patient described dialysis as like sticking a knitting needle in your arm.
When Pemberton first started she used local anesthetic, which added another two needles into her arm.
Her sister also has kidney issues. Doctors don’t know where it came from as their parents are fine. Both parents have offered her their kidneys, but due to so many unknown genetic factors it’s not possible at this stage.
So, for now, Pemberton has to wait for a deceased organ donor.
‘‘One person can donate so many different things and save so many different lives,’’ she said.
Danielle Pemberton sits hooked up to a dialysis machine three days a week, with each session lasting four hours.