They were best friends in 1995 when the song, “I’ll be there for you” by The Rembrandts was a number one hit. The song about friendship is striking a chord this week as they each prepare to undergo kidney transplant surgery. It is Kelly who needs the kidney and it is Suzi who will be there for her as the donor.
“I was 33 years old when I was diagnosed with FGFS Kidney Disease nine years ago. With no symptoms, I went in for some routine blood work and was told, “Your kidney function is bad.” She learned she was at end Stage 5 of this disease that causes scarring damage to the kidneys.
While Kelly wasn’t expecting the news, she wasn’t surprised to receive it. “My dad passed away when I was 10 years old from kidney failure. Both of my brothers, a niece, cousin, and uncle all have it too.”
Up until that time, she was leading an active life working as a nail tech at Nemacolin Woodlands Spa, going out with friends and walking four or five miles a day the Yough River Trail in Connellsville, PA, that borders her home.
A New Routine
The Dialysis Kelly has been on for the past three years has changed all that.
“I have a port to my stomach that I hook up myself to a machine for ten hours every night. It kicks in and drains about 8 lbs of fluid out of me after removing toxins. I do also do a daytime exchange too that lasts for 30 minutes.
A lot of people don’t have pain from Dialysis. I do. I get this pain that feels like period cramps. I’m on medication for it so now, I only have that pain when I first hook up and in the morning when I wake up.”
She also experiences fatigue, nausea, lightheadedness and dizziness. It’s the muscle cramps she gets during the night, though, that are the most difficult to endure. “They wake you up and are twenty times worse than the pain of a Charlie Horse. It’s so bad. ”
Going the Distance
Suzi Love just wants to take all that pain away from Kelly. So she’s driving 10 hours today from North Augusta, SC, to Pittsburgh, PA, to donate her kidney in a three-hour surgery that will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd at UPMC Montefiore.
Her preparation for the big day has been two years in the making. That’s when she tried to be tested as a match, but was denied and told her excess weight would prevent her from being a donor.
“I knew I was the right blood type and started losing weight. I had just divorced and was starting nursing school then. All that time I wanted to get healthy enough to be a match. After losing 40 pounds, Suzi was cleared to move forward and flew to Pittsburgh in November for two days of testing.
She was a match and was accepted as the donor.
“I’m still in shock that we were a one in a million match. To me, this is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I do this? She is my best friend. I’ve never see anything affect her like this in our 25 years of friendship.”
Suzi, who is an LPN, will be on short term disability for eight weeks as she recovers from surgery. Since her benefits won’t take effect until 30 days after surgery, she’s been working these last few months 80 hours a week in a skilled nursing center and part time in medical spa, where she is a licensed esthetician to “build a nest egg.”
She has also been going to school to become a Registered Nurse, but that is on hold now until summer.
It’s all worth it, she said.
Paying it Forward
“So many times I have struggled in my life and have been miraculously saved. I remember one time during my divorce when I was struggling financially. One of my clients at the spa gave me money for rent and refused my attempt to repay her. She said, ‘Just pay it forward.’ That’s what I’ve been doing and I am doing now.”
I am so happy and am chomping at the bit. I can’t wait to come up there. My kids are so excited too, saying, ‘You’re going to help save Kelly! I’m hoping I will get my best friend back. How many times I wanted her to visit and travel and she couldn’t because she was confined to her home with this illness.
Maybe it’s selfish on my part to want to keep my best friend. All I worry about is if the kidney will work. I know I’ll be fine.”
What it Means
What does it mean to Kelly to receive this gift from Suzi? “It means life. She’s saving my life. Suzi is an angel sent from Heaven. The love that she is showing me is so overwhelming. I don’t know how to thank her enough.”
Now, Kelly gets to plan for the future – while appreciating the things that are so easy to take for granted.
“I’m excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. After the transplant, I get to eat almonds! I’m looking forward to being free with food choices and getting back to an active life style. “
She’ll continue with, “Nails by Kelly”, the home-based business she started. I am so close to these clients and I love working for myself.
I try to stay positive and still walk on the trail. People ask me, ‘How are you feeling?’ I just want them to say, ‘Hi!’” I don’t want to feel like a sick person. I don’t want this to define me.”
And it won’t. It will be a bond so strong and faith so bold, that will instead.
The Road Ahead
Both Kelly and Suzi will remain in the hospital after the transplant surgery for one week. Kelly and her husband, Geno, will then have a room at Family House so that she can go into the hospital every day for monitoring and treatment.
Someday, she may need another kidney transplant. “FSGS is in my genes. It will attack my new kidney.”
What makes her strong? “My faith in God,” she said. I pray and I know. Not too long ago, I gave my life to the Lord. Since then, I have a different way of looking at things and know they will work out.”
Last week a surprise party was held in Kelly’s honor. “I’m overwhelmed by all the love and support, not only from Geno, but from family and friends.”
How You Can Help
And there’s more love and support on the way.
On Saturday, February 20th, the community is invited to attend “Kelly and Suzi’s Benefit Party” being held at the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport across from the Laurel Mall in Lemont Furnace, PA. Donations, that will help defray the associated costs of care, will be accepted at the door. The event will last from 5 pm – 10 pm and will include food, 50/50 and DJ.
A newly created GoFundMe page, Kelly and Suzi’s Kidney Exchange, is another great way to support the cause.
As they look forward to Tuesday’s kidney transplant surgery, these two Strong Women will be at the party enjoying friendship, saying thank you and most especially – celebrating life.