Bobbie Millward, 50, of Bellefonte, Pa., knew that a genetic disease would eventually lead her down the path to a kidney transplant — she’d seen it in her family and knew it was only a matter of time. In December 2018, Bobbie’s kidneys began to function at less than 10%. She had to not only start dialysis, but also consider the path ahead to transplant. On Sept. 13, 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, Bobbie got the gift she had been dreaming of for years — a new kidney.
Polycystic Kidney Disease
Bobbie was born with a genetic disease called polycystic kidney disease. Her grandfather was the first in the family to be diagnosed, and her mother passed away at age 67 from the disease.
Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited disorder that causes clusters of cysts to develop in the kidneys. These noncancerous cysts contain fluid and can grow very large, eventually causing kidney failure. Medical treatment doesn’t typically begin until your kidney is functioning at just 10%.
“When you begin dialysis, you have a big meeting with your entire care team where they explain the whole process,” says Bobbie. “Because my mother had been on dialysis for 12 years, I understood what was ahead of me, but that didn’t make it any easier.”
Bobbie had dialysis 3 days a week at the dialysis center in Williamsport. After working a full day, she went straight to dialysis and wouldn’t get home until 9 p.m.
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A Long Road Ahead
“Some days, I felt like a walking zombie,” says Bobbie. “My care team did everything they could for me. If I wasn’t feeling well or felt a new problem developing, they would do whatever I needed.”
During her dialysis treatments, Bobbie was under the care of UPMC nephrologist Sam Stea, MD, in Williamsport. He encouraged her to get on the transplant list as soon as possible. They knew it could take some time before Bobbie found a match. When UPMC opened the UPMC Kidney Transplant Evaluation Clinic at UPMC Williamsport in April 2020, Dr. Stea referred her there to be placed on UPMC’s transplant list.
“I was happy to see UPMC’s clinic open in Williamsport, and it was very easy to enroll in their clinic. All they did was get the test results to make sure my insurance was accepted,” says Bobbie.
UPMC’s clinic provides transplant evaluations, pre-transplant testing and imaging, post-transplant follow-up care, and information about living-donor kidney transplants for patients with kidney disease in north central Pennsylvania. The clinic connects patients in Williamsport with the UPMC Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program in Pittsburgh, one of the nation’s most active and experienced transplant programs for kidney, pancreas, and combined kidney-pancreas transplants.
A Surprise Phone Call
As Bobbie waited for her life-changing transplant phone call, life seemed to carry on as normal for her and her husband, Mike. In September 2020, when pandemic restrictions on gatherings eased, Bobbie and Mike attended a small outdoor family reunion with Mike’s family.
“My phone started ringing, and I just thought I better pick it up,” remembers Bobbie. “To this day, I am not sure who was calling me, but I remember what they said: “We have a kidney for you.'”
Bobbie yelled across the party, “Mike, how quickly can we get to Pittsburgh?”
She already had an overnight bag packed and was ready to go to the hospital. Two hours and 30 minutes later, she arrived in Pittsburgh and was admitted for transplant surgery. The next day, Sept. 13, Bobbie received a new kidney.
Martin Wijkstrom, MD, surgeon and director, Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute Fellowship Program, UPMC, performed the surgery. Two days later, Bobbie was discharged from the hospital.
“I was off work for a few months, but I eventually got my energy back,” says Bobbie. “Dialysis was keeping me alive, but it is also very draining. It was nice to be done with it.”
A New Beginning
Today, Bobbie is living her life to the fullest while taking daily anti-rejection medicine. She has blood work and regular appointments at the UPMC Kidney Transplant Evaluation Clinic at UPMC Williamsport. She travels to Pittsburgh every 6 months to see Dr. Wijkstrom, but those appointments will soon be done annually.
“I am fortunate to have great doctors here in Williamsport,” says Bobbie. “Unfortunately, I handed this disease down to my oldest son Kyle. Hopefully, when the time comes, his younger brother can be a donor, and most of their care can happen with the same doctors that took care of my mother and me.”
The UPMC Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program’s main goal is to improve the lives of people who have kidney disease, problems from diabetes, or both. As one of the nation’s most active and experienced transplant programs, UPMC has vast experience in kidney, pancreas, and combined kidney-pancreas transplants. From thorough evaluation to world-class treatment, UPMC provides a patient-centered approach to care. Your dedicated transplant team will guide and support you throughout the transplant process. For more information about the UPMC Kidney Transplant Evaluation Clinic at UPMC Williamsport, please call 1-877-640-6746 or visit UPMC.com/KidneyTransplant.
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About Transplant Services
Established in 1981, UPMC Transplant Services is one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, including liver, kidney, pancreas, single and double lung, heart, and more. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and have a long history of developing new antirejection therapies—so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions.