Her mom, Pat, drove her to the emergency room at St. Charles Hospital, where a doctor told Kandy, “You are one sick young lady.” Her blood pressure was a dangerously high 240/140, and test results showed she had zero kidney function. Healthy kidneys are about the size of a fist, but Kandy’s kidneys had shriveled down to the size of grapes.
“The doctor said I showed up to the emergency room at the very end,” Kandy said.
She couldn’t believe it. Sure, she was fatigued, but she attributed that to her two-and-a-half-hour round trip work commute and to raising a toddler. A life-threatening disease certainly never crossed her mind.
Kandy was diagnosed with end-stage IgA nephropathy. (An antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) lodged in Kandy’s kidneys and caused them to shut down.) The day after her trip to St. Charles, Kandy started dialysis. She went to Maumee Bay Dialysis Center every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for four hours each time. Eventually, she was allowed to drop Thursdays.
She was put on the waiting list in January 2000. Since those were the days before cell phones, Kandy was given a pager and told she would be contacted that way if a potential match was found.
Kandy was walking through the Woodville Mall in Northwood on Sunday afternoon, October 8. Her pager went off. She asked a security guard where the payphones were, and he directed her down a wing of the mall. Kandy remembers walking through a beauty pageant to get to the payphones. She dug through her purse, found a quarter and called Mark at Life Connection of Ohio. Mark said a kidney was available, and she might be a match. Just as Mark uttered those words, Kandy’s 3-year-old son, John, reached up and hung up the phone! Kandy frantically found another quarter in her purse and called Mark back. He said, “You hung up on me. You must not want this kidney very badly!”
Mark told Kandy to get something to eat and head to the University of Toledo Medical Center (the former Medical College of Ohio). She got a pretzel and water from the Hot Sam stand and drove to the hospital. After they took about 26 viles of blood and completed the admitting paperwork, Kandy was told to go home, not eat or drink for 10 to 12 hours and wait for a call. The call came at 8:30 that night, and she was told the kidney was a match!
The wait was over. Kandy was in shock since she had gone through the same process six other times only to find out those kidneys were not matches for her. This one was meant to be.
After one year, three months and six days on dialysis, Kandy received a life-saving kidney transplant on October 9, 2000 – the day before her 34th birthday.
“It was the best birthday present ever,” Kandy said.
Her transplant surgeon, Dr. Rees, gathered all the nurses and residents, and they sang happy birthday to Kandy. They also brought her a chocolate cake – one of the many things she couldn’t eat while enduring kidney failure. That cake, Oreos, mashed potatoes and bananas were a few of her favorite things she was able to eat after her new kidney was functioning.
Kandy returned home four days after her transplant, and she has never looked back. The best part of the past 14 years for Kandy has been “hanging out with my son,” who is now 17.
“Our life is full and very busy,” Kandy said. “I’m so thankful for the gift of life. It allowed me to go back and be a mom and be here to watch my son grow up.”
Kandy, now 47, works full time as a treasury/credit specialist at The Andersons in Maumee. She and John lead the epitome of an active life. They have gone hiking, biking, rappelling, paintballing and ziplining. One of their favorite trips was to West Virginia in 2010, where they white water rafted, stayed with friends at Virginia Beach, spent a day at the Boy Scout National Jamboree and then migrated to Pennsylvania to visit other friends.
The only thing Kandy knows about her donor is that he was a generous man from Maryland. She wrote a letter to her donor family, but she has not heard back.
“It’s probably the hardest letter I’ve ever written,” Kandy said. “You’re ecstatic, but they are devastated. How do you temper your joy with their sorrow? The biggest thing you’re saying is ‘thank you,’ but how do you thank someone for giving you your life back?”
Kandy’s transplant journey inspired John to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor when he was asked the question last year at the BMV on Heatherdowns Boulevard in Toledo. He has seen firsthand the power of donation. That Maryland man’s incredible gift has allowed him to have his mom in his life. And he said that is “pretty cool.”