Donate Life: Barbara's and Nicole’s Transplant Story

Ask 70-year-old Cincinnati resident Barbara Mack to describe her journey as a kidney transplant recipient, and she'll tell you it was "like a whirlwind." Until February 2015 when she was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), Barbara's only health concern had been high blood pressure, which she controlled with medication.

Her journey started in Arizona where she and her husband Tom wintered with friends every year. In January 2015, the snowbirds cut their trip short when unusual stiffness in Barbara's hands and swelling in her ankles that had developed two months earlier got worse.

Back in Cincinnati, Barbara's list of medical specialists grew quickly: Her primary care physician sent her to a rheumatologist who sent her to a nephrologist (kidney specialist). Along the way, the whirlwind picked up speed.

Barbara spent 20 days in the hospital after complications from a kidney biopsy. Doctors diagnosed the stiffness in her hands as scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. They believed the combination of scleroderma and high blood pressure is what caused end-stage renal disease.

That diagnosis meant the start of dialysis and talk of a transplant, which led her to The Christ Hospital Health Network transplant program. Barbara says she found peace in the midst of the swift chain of events thanks to prayer.

"I prayed and prayed and gave myself to the Lord," recalls Barbara. "I knew it was going to be all right."

Nicole answers the call

Barbara wasn't the only one who says she felt God's hand guiding the process. Her daughter, Nicole Mack, did too and immediately offered to be tested to see if she was a possible live kidney donor.

"I didn't have any hesitations," says Nicole. "At 18 I decided I wanted to donate my organs when I passed away. But I never thought about being a live kidney donor—it's not something that was on my radar."

Nicole and her husband Michael lived in Houston. They hoped to move back to Cincinnati but needed to find jobs there first. Her mother's health made that move even more important.

A call in July from Trisha Monson, Nicole's transplant coordinator at The Christ Hospital Health Network, set off a new chain of events. Nicole was a match and could begin scheduling the next round of tests to determine if she was healthy enough to be a donor. She says she was grateful for how the transplant team kept the process moving."

They were very accommodating to my availability, scheduling tests around when I would be in Cincinnati," Nicole says. "They were advocates for both of us."

In November, the family learned Nicole was healthy enough to donate. Surgery was scheduled for mother and daughter in January, but Barbara developed an infection, so their surgeries were rescheduled for February 23, 2016.

Both women say one last step made it clear that God had orchestrated the entire process: Michael was offered a job as a pastor at a Cincinnati church. They moved home six days before the surgeries.

"Step by step, God opened every door that we thought would be shut," says Barbara. "This transplant was the avenue that God used to bring Nicole's family home."

Naturally, neither one is surprised that their surgeries went as planned.

"Every time I went for my follow-up visits, the nurses and doctors raved about my progress," says Barbara.

Though both women give credit to their faith for keeping fear at bay, Barbara says her trust in her doctors and transplant team at The Christ Hospital Health Network played a part too.

"All my doctors talked to each other—that gives you a sense of trust," Barbara says. "Everyone is on top of what they're doing, so you don't worry about what you're putting yourself into."

Visit The Christ Hospital Health Network transplant program's resource pages to learn about kidney transplant and being a live kidney donor.

 Nicole is pictured above with Tanya O'Rourke, from Ch. 9, at our Donate Life Month Celebration on April 7.