Arbutus mother donates kidney to 30-year-old daughter

(Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
December 25, 2010|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

For months, Valerie Eigner saw her daughter, Jamie Conway, endure exhausting dialysis treatments three days a week, on top of a full-time work schedule that sometimes left her so fatigued she would return from her job and collapse on her bed.

The lupus first diagnosed in 2004 had spread to Conway's kidneys, and doctors knew by spring that she would need a transplant. When Eigner heard the news, there was no question of what she would do to help.

"When we found out in April that she needs a kidney, I knew I'm going to be tested," said Eigner. She learned that her daughter's body could accept her kidney, and a few days ago, Eigner and Conway went to the University of Maryland Medical Center for a transplant operation. On Christmas Day, they were recovering together, cheering the end of Conway's grueling medical treatments.

Though spending their Christmas in a Baltimore hospital rather than at home in Arbutus might not make for the perfect holiday, Conway, a graphic designer for Alter Communications, said she looks forward to another celebration — New Year's — in better health.

"It's a great Christmas," said Stephen Bartlett, the chief surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical System who performed the operation. "They'll be recovered, by and large, in a couple weeks."

With color in her cheeks and a smile on her face, the faintness in Conway's voice was the only outward sign the 30-year-old had just had major surgery. Originally scheduled for around Thanksgiving, the procedure had been delayed until just a few days before Christmas.

"Every time you think you're close, you'd have to go back a step or two," Conway said. For instance, a surgery date set for Dec. 10 had to be pushed back because Conway's blood count was too low.

And Eigner, 59, had to go through exhaustive blood tests to make sure she would be a good match for her daughter.

"I think I've had probably 42 tubes of blood taken," since she started the donation process in August, Eigner said.

Bartlett said that while the "classical" donation scenario involves a parent giving to a young child, the hospital's surgeons have operated on donors in their 70s.

"We look at the physiological age rather than the chronological age," he said.

Conway's husband was also tested and could have donated his kidney; Eigner said six other family friends and co-workers also offered to be tested.

The offers made Conway unusually lucky, Bartlett said.

"Most people do not have that many potential donors," he said.

Eigner benefited from a technique that used a single incision near her belly button, where the skin is more elastic. That meant a smaller cut and a quicker recovery, Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he expects Conway to go home early this week, and for her mother to be released Sunday.

To the mother and daughter, who live across the street from each other, the donation also means that after their recovery, they can resume their Saturday shopping trips with full strength. On a recent trip to outlet shops in Lancaster, Pa., Conway had been too tired to walk from store to store in the huge complex.

"I told her," Eigner said, "'One of these days we'll be able to walk [all over] this place.'"

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