Catholic Herald Staff
When 8-year-old Renee Full experienced ongoing back pain and wasn’t filling out her Catholic school uniform, her parents sought medical advice. A specialist discovered that her kidney was comparable in size to that of a 2-year-old. Renee was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, likely something she had been suffering from since birth. Now 25 years old, Full is in need of her second kidney transplant.
For years, the Full family has had a cabin in Minong, visiting frequently from their home in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Active in their home parish of St. Peter’s Catholic Church – whose school the Full children also attended through sixth grade – the Fulls are also very active members of St. Mary’s Church in Minong.
St. Mary’s pastor Fr. James Kinney, who described Renee as a “wonderful young lady,” hopes a potential match might be among Catholic Herald readers. He said, “the entire family is very strong in their Catholic faith.” He spoke of what he candidly calls a “full liturgy” – Saturday evening Mass at St. Mary’s, “where the entire family pitches in for virtually all the ministries including acolyte, reader and usher.”
At age 12, Full’s doctors at the University of Minnesota recommended she inquire about treatments and a possible kidney transplant with doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Those doctors were able to administer a medication that stabilized her renal function – at the time 18 percent – for four years, interrupting her kidney’s damaging “hyper mode cycle.”
With the lifespan of a transplanted kidney averaging around 10 years, Renee’s team of doctors were pleased the medication pushed back the need for a transplant for four years.
Kidney transplants are the most common type of major organ transplant; that said, there are very specific conditions for finding a matching donor. The average wait time for an organ match is from five to seven years; and there’s the on-call status during the waiting period requiring availability at any given notice to accept the organ.
To sidestep the waiting process, members of the Full family went through the testing process. Renee’s mother, Kay, was a suitable match and donated one of her kidneys to her 16-year-old daughter.
Asked about her donor experience, Kay said, “For me, it has been so inconsequential (in comparison to) the gift that you give to someone.” She was out of work for three to four weeks to complete the transplant recovery process but has not experienced any negative implications for her own health.
A University of Minnesota study – started when kidney transplants began in the 1960s – has determined, in Kay’s words, “that a person who donates a kidney has no greater risk from a health perspective than a person that has both their kidneys.”
The mother’s own conclusion is that “God made us little walking miracles.”
While Renee has been on a kidney donor list through Mayo Clinic for three and a half years, she said, “Unfortunately we’re looking into dialysis due some other little complications on my end, which is fine.” Her mother interjected, “We’ve been trying really hard to do what we can through diet (and other things) to keep Renee off of dialysis.” She acknowledged that they are at the crossroads of having to proceed with dialysis, likely starting this summer if a donor is not found.
Renee said, “With kidney disease, there is no cure. A lot of people think that once you get a transplant, you’re cured,” but that is not the case. Her renal disease is in itself incurable. She is on immune suppressants in preparation for a potential donor, something her mother shared is hard on her body.
“It is what it is. You have to go through what you need to do,” Kay said.
For this second transplant, Renee’s medical team is – given her young age – “trying to find a really strong kidney that can get her through a significant part of her life,” her mother said. Any potential match would be considered, but priority would be given to younger donors with the advantage that their organ would likely have a longer lifespan.
Through the initial testing process, it was discovered Renee’s father and sister have kidney cysts that point to a genetic trait in the family and make them unsuitable to donate.
Finding a direct match involves matching with Renee’s blood-type, which is O+. A potential donor would contact Mayo Clinic to complete an initial questionnaire. If that screening were passed, then a two- to three-day testing process would take place with medical and psychological exams, including complex cross-matching analysis of antigens and antibodies.
Kay said, “Ultimately, what they’re looking for is to make sure that it is in the person’s best interest to donate; that it isn’t going to compromise their health in any way and they’re healthy enough to do so.”
With an upbeat tone of voice, Kay shared warmly that “Northwestern Wisconsin holds a very special place in our hearts.” The Fulls three children – 27, 25 and 20 – have made many memories in the Minong area with their parents, including their oldest daughter Michelle’s wedding at St. Mary’s Church.
Dealing with her illness day to day, Renee shared that fatigue and nausea are the most challenging aspects. She works for her father’s company, “which has some ups with that” but she confesses being exhausted most of the time and experiencing side effects from the medications she is on. Some physical activities are harder on her. A few years ago, the family took a vacation to Oregon and enjoyed hiking, something she would not be able to enjoy at this point.
The strong-spirited young woman laughed and said, “Sometimes I don’t even know how I do it.
But, yeah, it does have its emotional problems, too, unfortunately. I have had some history of depression and anxiety and stuff because it is pretty traumatic,” she said. While her general attitude is one of “it is what it is; if you really think about it, well, it actually really is happening.” She confesses to not really thinking about it every day, and continued, “I don’t think that I have a disease, but I know I do. I’ve just been with it for so long that I just go along with it.”
Kay recollected a story from soon after her young daughter’s diagnosis. She was wrapping Christmas gifts in the bedroom. Renee came in, sat down next to her and said, “Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m ready, to go home.”
With her voice cracking, Kay continued “and I said, ‘What do you mean? You are home.’” She said her little girl pointed up.
“I think, at that time, being a little kid, she was really scared; trying to deal with it all,” the mother said. “I tell people all the time that she’s my hero.”
Kay went quiet for a moment and her daughter comforted her, saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” They shared a moment of laughter and affirmed that being a hero goes both ways.
The family is praying to find Renee another hero.
“There are such generous people out there,” Kay said, confidently. She expressed her gratitude for Fr. Kinney taking an interest in Renee’s story. He told her, “If we can cast the net out further, and the more that we can cast our net out, there might be that one person out there somewhere that has a heart that feels that this is something they want to do.”
Full finds hope from other stories of perfect matches from among pure strangers. “Anybody that considers this, I just think is such an incredibly generous person. They have to have such a generous spirit to do that,” Kay said.
Anyone interested in taking the first step can fill out an online health history questionnaire; current weight and height are needed. Visit mayoclinic.org/livingdonor and follow the instructions. Any questions regarding this process may be directed to ude.o1529708073yam@p1529708073tnagr1529708073orono1529708073dgniv1529708073il1529708073 or 866-227-1569.
In addition, the family has provided an email address to contact them directly – moc.l1529708073iamg@1529708073dik4y1529708073endik1529708073.