At the End is My New Beginning

I was diagnosed in 2007 with IgA Nephropathy when a routine urinalysis showed I was excreting a large amount of protein and had microscopic hematuria (blood in my urine). I guess it was the beginning of my denying that eventually I may succumb to renal failure at a young age. My coping mechanism at that time was to make myself busy to divert my mind from thinking that I was not healthy. In fact, I didn’t feel anything strange in my body. I failed to follow up with my Nephrologist because of the fear of any “bad news” during a doctor’s visit.  I was a resident physician,  balancing a very stressful training in OB-GYN, doing 24-hour labor and delivery watch on every patient, and staying overtime in the hospital.   How could I be so very neglectful of me?

I made myself believe divine intervention would heal my disease, and nothing harmful would happen along the way. I intentionally forgot about my own health and focused on taking care of others, until I started feeling fatigued and almost fainted during long hours of hospital duty. At that time, I had no idea my blood pressure was already over the top, and I had severe anemia. I went to the emergency department, but at the back of my mind, I knew that my disease had caught up with me. My blood pressure was 200/180; I was lucky I did not just drop dead that day while doing daily rounds on my patients. I was admitted to the hospital; and once again, I saw my nephrologist.  At that time the Doctor’s first question to me was, “Why?” Why did I not come and see her during all those years working in the hospital, with her clinic just around the corner? I had no answer. It’s just that I was scared. I was frustrated, angry with myself, and depressed. For me, everything stopped right then. My plans and dreams all came to a halt. 

Anna Mae with husband Rey

But then, just when I thought my life was wasted, my husband’s petition arrived for me to come and live with him in the U.S.  I emigrated from the Philippines in 2012, knowing I had a better chance of treatment in America. When I arrived in the United States, my new Nephrologist immediately placed me on the transplant list. I was already in stage 5 renal disease, but I still refused dialysis. Much was going on in my life at that time; my beloved father was battling lung cancer, and I was away from my family. And, when the time came that I had to start hemodialysis, I had to be admitted to a hospital for the placement of my dialysis catheter. (Editor’s Note: The best way to prepare for hemodialysis is to receive a fistula months before dialysis is necessary, instead of a catheter on an emergency basis.)  My father passed away without me beside him because I also had to fight my own battle to be able to live. I was hit hard. I thought I could never recover. My heart and mind were broken, and I did not know how to bounce back to where I used to be. I was hard on myself because I was going through a lot of emotional and physical pain. 

Looking back, I would not have been strong enough to face all those issues within me had I not met my Nephrologist Dr. Shahrzad Zarghamee at Palo Alto Medical Foundation and a great team of dialysis staff at Satellite WellBound.  My dialysis nurse Soraya Aghassi treated me not asa patient but like her own daughter. I had a great social worker Debbie Kurland, who encouraged me, saying I can still be who I want to be. Most of all, I was able to face those issues because of my loving and supportive husband whom I relied on for my strength when I was weak. Through all the ups and downs and struggles in my treatment, I became comfortable with doing dialysis. After doing in-center dialysis, my husband and I then trained for home hemodialysis. Now I’ve shifted to peritoneal dialysis, giving me more flexibility in my treatment. After 3 years on dialysis, I’ve risen above my disease. There are still moments when I experience physical and emotional highs and lows, but I am now focused on winning my battle. I am on a new career path, I learned how to drive, and now I have passed the licensure exam to be Medical Technologist. I’m starting to get my way around a new job at Kaiser Permanente in Redwood City. Since I have no kidney donor, it’s still a long journey to a kidney transplant; yet I am looking forward to that moment when I get that important phone call! Until that day comes, my journey to a new beginning continues.  

Anna Mae Louie Olivares

UPDATE: It was New year’s day 2018. I was at church that evening when I felt my phone vibrating inside my purse. I stepped outside to check who was calling me. I got a little bit excited because the call came from out of the area. I was thinking that this could be the one phone call I have been waiting for. 

True enough, the call was an offer for a kidney. I was the first choice and a good match. We went to UC Davis in Sacramento right away, and I was scheduled for the surgery the following morning. The kidney transplant was a success, and my recovery has been stable and well. I am grateful to all the doctors, nurses and the medical team (pre and post-transplant) who have been dedicated and helpful to all their patients.  I have been coming to the BAAKP support group meetings since 2014, and I will continue to be an advocate for its members and other kidney patients.