It began with at least a 104 fever and being rushed to the emergency room at age 3. The diagnosis was chronic kidney failure. Or, more specifically, agenesis of the kidneys, which meant that my kidneys never fully developed. I barely remember anything from those years, but I knew from then on that my life had changed forever. I depended on my parents to tell me the stories. According to them, from the time I was age 3 to age 5, I underwent numerous surgeries and peritoneal dialysis treatments. I also suffered from urinary tract infections, hospitalizations, and countless needles and days missed from school and a happy childhood. At 6-years-old, I had my very first kidney transplant from a deceased donor. My life started after I had my first kidney transplant, and the scars etched on the skin of my belly and my parents’ stories are proof of that.
Fast forward to age 12. I was just starting my pre-teenage years of giggling about boys, learning endless new information from school subjects, and chatting with my friends. On one particularly random day, I experienced a severe pain in my right foot and a high fever that sent me to the emergency room. The diagnosis was an infection in the foot that could be taken care of by antibiotics, but it went a leap further in the announcement that there was only 10% of my kidney function left and I had to have another kidney transplant. I was put on the transplant waiting list in the February of 1995 and prepped to possibly start hemodialysis if a donor was not found soon enough. I was devastated, bitter, and filled with a frightening hatred in the time that followed after I was told that I had to have another transplant. My skin complexion turned pale. I did not have energy to do anything at all. I constantly had to watch what I ate. I was already suffering from a severe limp and hip condition that resulted from the steroid and immunosuppressant prednisone that I had to take from my first transplant. I eventually had to be put on crutches and then a wheelchair. I still wet the bed and had to wear diapers. I felt extremely self-conscious and out of place at school. I never felt like I belonged. I was always “different” or “abnormal.” Many of my classmates either pitied or teased me. Only a couple of my closest friends managed to stay by my side through this depressing and turbulent timeframe, and my Father was a constant support who was always there for me. By that time, my Mother had already left my Father, my older sister, and me, because she could not take the difficulties in handling a child with such ongoing chronic health problems. People do not realize that health problems affect the whole circle of family members like a vicious domino effect. During my pre-teenage years, it felt like all I did was struggle. I struggled with my family problems at home with an absence of a mother. I struggled socially with fitting in at school. I struggled with trying to find a second kidney transplant and current health problems that had resulted from the medications to maintain my first kidney transplant. I wondered if life would ever get better.
I was extremely lucky that I did not have to undergo hemodialysis treatments. The agonizing wait ended only after 3 months of being on the transplant waiting list. I received my second kidney transplant on May 5, 1995 from a 4-year-old girl who died when a mirror fell on her. I received two of her kidneys. In her parents’ time of tragedy and anguish, they selflessly gave my life back to me. My health and life returned to me just about immediately after my second kidney transplant. I did not wet the bed anymore or have to wear diapers. The severe limp, crutches, and wheelchair went away; I was able to walk again. It still took time to recuperate and fully recover and the side effects from many immunosuppressant medications still affected me in not the best of ways, but the major point was that my health and life were back. This was my second chance at life, and I was absolutely and 100%+ determined to make the most and everything out of it.
It has been 15 years since my second transplant, and I made it my purpose to live my life to the fullest and to inform and share with others my story and how organ transplantation and donation is the ultimate miracle and gift. From 2006-2008, I was a TransAction Member on National Kidney Foundation’s TransAction Council. As a TransAction Member and with my other team members, I became heavily interested and involved with healthcare issues and reform. I began to educate others on the benefits of organ donation/transplantation through my transplant story, advocate on behalf of political issues to help other transplant candidates and recipients, write letters to politicians, and had an opinion editorial piece that was published in the local Westchester County’s Journal News newspaper. I also became a member of the Transplant Support Organization in Westchester County with attending meetings and making connections with others who shared that common thread of an organ transplant, but different patterns of transplant experiences and stories. Most recently, I began a book blog athttp://kidneyconfessions.blogspot.com, which chronicles all of my health experiences in detail since I was a little girl. My goal is to publish it as a book and for it to provide hope, understanding, and information to others who have suffered from a chronic organ/health issues as well as their caregivers.
Sharing my story and participating in all these amazing organ donation/transplant events is my extremely tiny way to try to give back to my organ donor family. Such words as thank you, grateful, and indebted are miniscule and cannot even begin to describe how much I owe to my organ donor’s family. Because of them, I have experienced major and most special moments in my life. I had the chance to enjoy my high school years and create memories full of laughter and fun with my friends. I saw my Father remarry a special and caring woman whom I consider my Mother. I have had plenty of bonding moments with my older sister. I have had the chance to travel around the world, and see all their beauty and brand of uniqueness. I had the opportunity to go to university and study psychology, communications, and sociology and work in the social services/healthcare field. Now, I work for the Westchester County Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in administration where I have constant contact with doctors, nurses, patients, and their family members. I am reminded every single day how precious life is from work AND from my personal life. I treasure my life and my family and friends for always being there for me. I treasure every single day that brings surprises, humor, laughter, heartaches, anguish, triumphs, and beauty.
All of us who have had an organ transplant are so different in stories, specific health experiences, backgrounds, and more, but that one common thread of being an organ transplant candidate or recipient is unbreakable. I am grateful to be a part of such an extraordinary community as the organ transplant one. Most of all, I am forever grateful that I am here to live life and share my transplant life story with others.
Note: Mary Wu is a gifted writer currently working on her first book, an autobiography telling the full story behind the brief overview below. As she completes each chapter, she posts it on her web site for readers to preview and offer feedback to her. You can find that blog and her growing chapters at "Confessions of a Kidney Transplant Recipient" (click to link to her site) 12/2011: two articles about Mary's upcoming ride on the Donate Life America float in the Rose Bowl parade: Article 1 Article 2
Update 6/29/13: Mary's book, "Confessions of a Kidney Transplant Recipient", is now published! Click here to check it out on Amazon - also, listen to her June 27, 2013 Renal Support Network radio interview by clicking on her photo here: