Bonny Sexton, 49, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) when she was 19 years old. A common genetic disease, the key to controlling the disease’s progression is controlling the high blood pressure that comes with it.
“At the time, my first nephrologist said if I took good care of myself, I wouldn’t need dialysis until I was around 50,” Bonny said. “Of course, that information doesn’t even seem real to a 19-year-old. Fifty? I’ll die a thousand deaths before then. But I managed to hold off kidney failure until I was 47, so he was actually pretty close.”
Life was fairly normal for Bonny until she reached her 40s and inched closer to kidney failure. The disease causes cysts inside and outside the kidney, and as those cysts increase in size, there’s pain from cysts bursting. Also, while normal kidneys are generally the size of a fist, PKD kidneys can grow to be the size of footballs. So that presented self-esteem issues.
“No one wants to look pregnant at 45,” laughed Bonny. “Especially when you aren’t!”
During dialysis, while she waited on the transplant list, Bonny worked full-time at Corporation Services Company and then went for dialysis treatment three times a week after work, finally arriving home in the evenings around 8:30 or 9 p.m. She admits it was not an easy schedule during the year she waited for a kidney.
The weekly grind was challenging enough, but she also missed monthly dinners with extended family, spontaneous road trips and other normal, fun activities reduced by the dialysis schedule.
An optimist by nature, Bonny learned to look for the silver lining in her wait. She named her future kidney – if donor was a male, the kidney would be named John F. Kidney, and if a female donor, the kidney would be Jackie Kidney. She also didn’t put her life on hold. She learned to wait patiently, make plans and hope for the best.
One of those plans was to attend a Billy Joel concert in St. Louis. She and her husband Brad Melton ordered tickets months in advance. As fate would have it, she got the call for her new kidney the morning of the concert.
“It was just one of those things,” she said. “You’re sad to miss the concert, but come on! You’re getting a kidney! Who’s going to complain?!”
The day after her kidney transplant, one of Bonny’s transplant team nurses, Rachel Bounds, RN, came into Bonny’s hospital room. She had attended the concert that night and brought back a recording of the song “Piano Man” on her phone for Bonny to listen to.
“So in my case, I got Billy Joel AND a new kidney!”
Bonny appreciated the expertise of her team at Memorial Transplant Services before, during and after her successful transplant. She still speaks with her coordinator monthly, and notes that everyone was kind and caring through each step of the process.
“You don’t realize until you start the process how intimidating it is to need an organ,” she said. “But everyone was patient with my endless questions, and they are so wonderful about keeping in touch with you afterwards.”
Bonny’s transplant has made life so much more enjoyable. She still doesn’t bungee jump or race BMX bikes, but she does go to those monthly family dinners and travels to visit with friends.
“Before my transplant, I was functioning, but not really living,” she said. “But now? The transplant didn’t transform me, but it lets me enjoy each day instead of simply pushing through.”
For more information about Memorial’s transplant services, visit the Alan G. Birtch, MD, Center for Transplant Services.