A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University concluded 3.6 percent of Americans suffer end-stage kidney disease requiring kidney dialysis. An even smaller percentage will need a kidney transplant during their lifetime.
Count Kimberly Gosell as one of those who not only required dialysis but also a kidney transplant. Make that “kidney transplants,” as the Palatine resident has needed three transplants in a 10-year span to combat the effects of lupus.
Since kidneys cannot be manufactured in a factory or purchased at a retail store, one can imagine the trepidation Kimberly experienced when trying to locate a donor. This first occurred in 2007 – a full seven years after her lupus diagnosis – when Kimberly’s doctor said her renal failure was severe enough to warrant a transplant.
Kimberly joined the organ donor registry in Illinois and neighboring Wisconsin but a match was not immediately found. While chatting with relatives over Thanksgiving dinner she explained her situation to many for the first time.
“I’ll never forget what [my cousin] Tony said,” Kimberly recalled. “I was telling my family that I needed a kidney transplant but hadn’t found a donor and Tony says ‘You can have one of mine, would you pass the turkey?’”
Kimberly assumed Tony was joking. “It’s not like I was asking for $5,” she said. “This is a big ask and I didn’t think he meant it.”
Two months later Kimberly’s doctor stressed the seriousness of her kidney condition and told her it was imperative they find a donor soon.
“I went back to Tony and asked him if he was serious and he just asked me what he needed to do,” Kimberly said. “We had the lab work done and we learned he was a match. The kidney transplant took place on Thursday, March 8.”
Approximately three years later Kimberly said the transplanted kidney “stopped functioning,” and soon she found herself needing four-hour dialysis sessions three times each week. Working full time and then undergoing dialysis along with her duties as a wife and mother of two teens eventually became too taxing and Kimberly had to go on medical leave in November 2012 from her job as director of development at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.
“I was working until 3 p.m. and then getting on a dialysis machine for the next four hours,” Kimberly said. “There were times when I’d be coming home [from dialysis] and I would have to pull over to the side of the road and rest because I was so exhausted. I said to myself ‘I can’t keep doing this,’ and decided to go on medical disability.
“It was difficult for me because when my kidney stopped functioning I kind of feel like a failure and wondered what I could have done differently. There were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do and that started to take its toll on me and my family.”
Kimberly expected a few people would be willing to donate a kidney, but to her surprise a Facebook group created to bring awareness to her situation resulted in 26 people offering a kidney.
“It was really humbling,” she said. “It makes you think how you must have impacted someone’s life enough for them to do this and go through this.”
Kimberly’s father was declared a match and on Feb. 12, 2014, the second transplant procedure was performed by Dr. Enrico Benedetti, head surgeon at UI Health.
“I like to say that my dad gave me life twice.”
Kimberly’s new kidney lasted almost five years before it began to fail. A bout of bronchitis and catching shingles in early 2018 didn’t help either. By the fall of 2018, her doctor told her another kidney transplant would be necessary.
“When my doctor told me it was time to find another kidney I was thinking ‘how can I go back and ask people again,’” Kimberly said. “They are going to wonder what I am doing with them. Will they think that I’m hording or collecting them? Even I started to wonder what was going on and why my kidneys were failing again.”
Kimberly’s son, Christian, a junior at Illinois State University, volunteered his kidney.
“I fought my son over it and told him there was no way I’d let him do that, but he said there were things in his life he needed me to be there for and was pretty persistent,” Kimberly said.
Christian got tested but it was later determined her husband, Chris, was a better match. On Nov. 18, 2018 – just four days before Thanksgiving – Kimberly underwent her third kidney transplant. Unfortunately, the procedure wasn’t without complications. On New Year’s Eve, Kimberly was admitted to the hospital due to an infection and blood clots. She would spend two weeks in the hospital and require several pints of blood. Now nine months later, she is happy to report she’s feeling wonderful.
“I wouldn’t be here without the blood donors and the three amazing kidney donors,” Kimberly said. “They truly saved my life.”
As one would imagine, Kimberly is a big proponent of organ and blood donation. She recently spoke at an event for the Illinois Secretary of State at the James R. Thompson Center.
Witnessing first-hand how blood products have helped his mother, Christian is now a regular plasma donor.
“He was inspired by what I went through and is now helping to save lives of others too,” she said. “It’s one of things that is so awesome about this situation.”
Organ and tissue donors save lives, restore sight and improve the quality of life for recipients across Illinois every day. For information on becoming a donor, visit www.lifegoeson.com.
Every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood. A single donation can save the lives of up to three people. Help ensure there is blood on the shelf for patients in need by scheduling your appointment at Vitalant.org or call 877.25VITAL.