Area woman needs new kidney—again
On their 20th anniversary, Laurie and Mike Williams renewed their vows and celebrated her new life, thanks to his having donated her a kidney.
Ten years later, Laurie is in a medical crisis again.
She went on dialysis in December, a little more than a year after Mike’s transplanted kidney started showing signs of problems. She’s now on two transplant lists for a new organ—a wait that could last five years or more since kidneys are the organ most in demand nationwide.
“Unfortunately, transplants don’t last forever,” said Laurie, who is 51. “Eventually, your body rejects it.”
Transplant recipients take medicine for life to fight the body’s natural desire to reject the foreign organ.
For some people, that rejection doesn’t come. A Caroline County man, for example, lived the last 25 years of his life with the kidney his daughter donated.
But Laurie’s situation is more in line with the norm, as transplanted kidneys generally last 10 to 12 years, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics transplant center.
Laurie, who lives in North Stafford, began dialysis on Dec. 27, about 15 months after doctors started seeing signs of a problem with her transplanted kidney.
She initially went to a local clinic three times a week, three hours at a time, for the treatment that involves pumping her blood through a machine that removes waste, salt, extra water and other chemicals before sending it back into her body.
But in March, Laurie and Mike finished 5 weeks of training so they could get the equipment to do her dialysis at home.
She favors home dialysis because it limits her exposure to infection and enables her to do it at a slower pace and more often, thus more closely replicating the work of a real kidney.
Home dialysis also provides a more comfortable environment as she copes with end-stage renal disease, a life-threatening condition.
“For me, personally, [the clinic] was probably the most depressing place on Earth,” Laurie said.
Now—when things go smoothly—she spends about five hours, five days a week getting dialysis in a bedroom she and Mike converted into a treatment room.
DOG TRAINER AND TV STAR
Laurie is known throughout the Fredericksburg region as a dog trainer, therapy dog handler and owner of Pup ’N Iron, a training and doggie day care facility off U.S. 1 in Stafford County.
She’s known nationwide for her appearance on “Greatest American Dog,” a reality TV program that aired on CBS from July to September 2008.
Laurie and Andrew, her 8-pound Maltese, were among the 12 dog/human teams that competed on the program.
Despite not winning the contest—Andrew was named runner-up—Laurie took satisfaction in achieving her goal of showcasing the benefits of positive reinforcement and mutual respect rather than intimidation in dog training.
With their son, Bryan, now 29 and living with a family of his own in Florida, Laurie and Mike’s dogs keep them from feeling like empty nesters.
Their canine crew—which now includes three Malteses, a Dalmatian, a Pharaoh hound and a long-haired Chihuahua—also provides a diversion from the demands of her medical condition.
“They’re like little babies. They’re so dependent,” Laurie said. “They take a lot of focus off us, and it’s good for us.”
When Mike Williams was in high school, he seemed destined for a career in medicine. Instead, he became a Marine and later joined the Herndon Police Department.
But that aptitude for medicine has come back into play.
On Dec. 1, Mike, 55, retired from his work as a patrol sergeant. And while he’s doing what the couple had envisioned—taking over the management side of Pup ’N Iron—he’s also taken on the unexpected role of “care partner” for his wife’s home dialysis.
Laurie inserts the two needles into her arm that route blood from her body to the artificial kidney machine and back again. Mike handles the rest.
That includes ordering the supplies, setting up and cleaning the dialysis machine, connecting the tubes from the machine to the needles in her arm, providing her snacks during treatment, monitoring the process and trouble-shooting any alarms that sound during dialysis.
“Her life is basically in my hands, so if something were to happen, it would all be on me,” Mike said.
As stressful as that is, he said it’s manageable without the additional burden of police work and the daily commute to western Fairfax County.
“I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “If I had not retired, I don’t know how we would have managed—her being on home dialysis.
“I’m grateful I was able to retire. If this is my path, this is my path. I’m totally cool with that.”
‘BUCKET LIST MENTALITY’
Laurie Williams was 22 and pregnant, living with her husband on a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, when she was diagnosed with lupus.
“The doctors said, ‘There is no cure for it, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be fatal,’” she recalled.
“For a long time, I went through the deer-in-the-headlights mindset.”
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects the kidneys, skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood and brain.
Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney failure. But unlike lupus, those medical issues can be controlled by treatment that can prevent or slow the associated kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Kidney failure is among the leading causes of death from lupus, so when Laurie was first diagnosed, she feared she wouldn’t live to see her son grow up.
As a result, she took him to everything imaginable so they could soak up as many experiences as she could fit into her lifetime.
And over the years, she’s continued trying to make the most of every moment, always planning some fun event, usually involving dogs and routinely to benefit a local charity.
She’s currently planning a formal wedding for Andrew, now 11, complete with canine bridesmaids and groomsmen. The spring nuptial follows Andrew’s betrothal to a friend’s Shih Tzu.
In the summer Laurie organized a three-day rally obedience camp. A few years ago, she held a doggie prom. And in 2008, after she and Andrew returned from taping “Greatest American Dog,” she hosted a red carpet “première pawty” to kick off its airing.
Laurie, who has a healthy sense of humor, even took to the stage once for a night of stand-up comedy.
“I’ve been on a bucket list mentality my whole adult life,” she said.
MOST PEOPLE ON TRANSPLANT WAITING LIST NEED A NEW KIDNEY
BY PAMELA GOULD
THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Mike Williams wasn’t totally surprised last year when doctors said the kidney he donated to his wife in 2003 had failed.
Despite his excellent health, doctors warned him from the start that it could last “a day, a week or 25 years” in his wife Laurie’s body.
“I was grateful for the time it did last,” he said recently.
With Mike needing his other kidney and their son, Bryan, a cancer survivor, Laurie has begun what, on average, is a three- to five-year wait for a non-relative donor for her next kidney.
Of the more than 120,000 people on the national transplant list, almost 82 percent need a kidney, according to the Richmond-based United Network for Organ Sharing.
That’s why Laurie agreed to tell her story.
She hopes education will not only help her but also the thousands of others who need an organ.
People needing kidneys get them one of four ways: from someone who dies, someone they know who is willing to donate, through a “paired exchange” or from an “altruistic donor.”
Location comes into play while waiting for a donor organ because each organ has a window of time between when it is harvested from the donor and must be implanted in the recipient.
People register with specific transplant centers that allow them to be close enough to get there in time for surgery when an organ becomes available.
Laurie Williams chose to get on the wait list at Inova Fairfax Hospital and at The Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital near Richmond to increase the odds of finding a kidney.
As of Monday, she was one of 98,541 people nationwide waiting for a kidney.
Henrico Doctors’ Hospital averages about 300 people on its waiting list for a kidney; Inova Fairfax generally has about 400 active cases on its list.
Mike Williams’ donation to his wife a decade ago is what’s known as a “live donor,” someone the recipient knows who volunteers to donate a kidney and who testing determines is a suitable match.
Laurie believes her best option this time is a “paired exchange,” which takes place when someone is willing to donate a kidney on behalf of a specific person on the list but isn’t a suitable match for that person. That pair of people is linked with another pair in similar circumstances, producing a swap of kidneys to their respective matches.
Across the country, there have been increasingly complex paired-exchange chains of cases in recent years. The largest occurred in 2011 and involved 60 operations and 30 recipients, according to the National Kidney Registry.
Altruistic donors—people who offer to donate a kidney to anyone in need—sometimes become part of that chain, said Deborah Campbell, director of The Inova Transplant Center.
She said live donors are the best option for someone needing a new kidney.
“The average living donor kidney functions for 15.5 years, while a deceased donor kidney typically lasts only half as long,” according to the Ohio-based Alliance for Paired Donation.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
DONATING A KIDNEY
Anyone interested in donating a kidney should be in good health and not diagnosed with diabetes or undergoing treatment for cancer, said Lisa Matthias, director of The Transplant Center
at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital.
The transplant centers at both Inova Fairfax Hospital and Henrico Doctors’ Hospital offer paired exchange transplants.
For more information about becoming a kidney donor:
Call The Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, 877/626-4581.
Call The Inova Transplant Center at Inova Fairfax Hospital, 800/358-8831.
Explore information at The National Kidney Registry
WANT TO HELP?
Though one person could save nine lives by donating his organs, as many as 6,000 people die each year waiting for a needed organ, according to Donate Life Virginia.
Each donor can potentially provide a heart, two parts of
a liver, two kidneys, two lungs, an intestine and a pancreas.
In addition, 50 lives can be enhanced by one person who
is a tissue donor.
Though Virginia has the ninth largest donor registry in the nation—with more than 3.6 million people signed up as of this fall—more than 40 percent of state residents over age 18 aren’t registered, according to data from Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Sunni Blevins Brown.
Registration is easy.
People can register through DMV when they get or renew a driver’s license or state identification card.
They also can go online to donatelifevirginia.org and register there or download a form to mail.
People as young as 13 can register, but a parent would have the final say for teens ages 18 and younger.
Laurie Williams started a Facebook page—“Searching for Laurie’s Kidney”—to chronicle her journey with end-stage renal disease and her wait for a donated kidney.