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Lisa Hartnett (left) and her sister Aimee deLaricheliere (right).

Four years ago at the age of 46, I “crash landed” into kidney disease. A visit to the doctor for what seemed like flu symptoms led me to the hospital and a diagnosis of Goodpasture’s Syndrome (a rare autoimmune disease in which antibodies attack the lungs and kidneys). It was the beginning of a long, tiring, yet enlightening medical journey.

To fight this disease, there were multiple rounds of immunosuppressant medications and plasmapheresis, a process to rid my blood of the antibodies, along with transfusions. Overload for someone who had never taken much other than an over-the-counter pain reliever! I was on a strict renal diet and limited fluid intake to try to fight the disease. Dr. Solomon, my nephrologist, managed to keep me off dialysis during this time, but it eventually became clear that the damage to my kidneys was too severe and a transplant would be necessary.

To say I was scared is an understatement but at the same time, I felt like the luckiest person ever. My sister had my back. Right from the start of this crazy journey, she let it be known that if I needed a transplant, she wanted to be my donor. This selfless offer had taken away my anxiety about who, when, and how I would find a kidney.

With a transplant in the future, my sister and I began working with Dr. Marroquin and the transplant team to establish whether she was a match. We both had extensive testing done. To receive her kidney I had to be free of the deadly antibodies for one year. We received the green light and 14 months after my diagnosis we had a transplant date. As excited as I was to get my life back, now I was scared. I was fearful of the surgery itself, and I began to second guess taking my sister’s kidney. If something happened to her, I could never live with myself. Thankfully, I put my trust in Dr. Marroquin and his team and both surgeries were successful.

Kidney failure was not just difficult for me but for my entire family. I realize now the fear and trepidation they all felt throughout this journey and how they managed to hold it together for the sake of my sister and I. I now find myself thinking of the thousands of others with renal disease who are patiently waiting along with their families for a donor kidney. My hope is that more people realize that organ donation can give someone a new lease on life.

My transplant experience exceeded my expectations and I am thankful to Dr. Marroquin for his expertise, compassion, and sense of humor. I like to call him the “kidney whisperer” and sing his praises to anyone who will listen!

Most of all I will be eternally grateful to my sister for the kidney she donated, for never wavering in her decision and for her ultimate gift of love and life. I am committed to taking care of this gift.

She is and always will be my hero.

Learn more about the Transplant Surgery at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

Lisa lives in Burlington with her husband David, daughter Katie and dog Daisy. She works in the accounting department of a local travel agency and in her free time enjoys biking, hiking, reading and spending time with family.

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