DENVILLE, NJ -- Motherhood was one of the greatest joys for Debra Kaufman. Her pregnancy resulted in having a son, Bryan, now in his 30s. However, the pregnancy at the time also resulted in preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system. In many cases, it negatively impacts the liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia ultimately damaged Debra's kidneys.
"I was out hospitalized for five weeks prior to delivery," Debra explained. "The doctors never placed me on any high blood pressure medication, it was strictly bed rest. After giving birth in 1985, I was being treated for high blood pressure. The condition led to end stage renal disease approximately eight years later, which was the reason I was retaining fluid and feeling nauseous."
The doctors determined that Debra had kidney failure and that she would need a kidney transplant, or she would be on dialysis for the rest of her life.
"This was all foreign to me when I was told that I had to undergo surgery to have a fistula created to provide access for the dialysis treatments," she said. "I had dialysis for six months, but then my sister unselfishly donated her kidney. Everything worked perfectly after I got the transplanted kidney from her."
Debra's husband and son were not a match after being tested, but her sister Karen was a perfect match to be her donor. In 1993, she received her sister's kidney, which lasted 25 years. In 2017, she found out that she needed to have cardiac bypass surgery, which required an angiogram. The dye from the angiogram was unfortunately toxic to the kidney.
"The doctors found I had a blockage in my heart and was in need of a double bypass operation," she added. "As a result, my heart condition was addressed but my kidney failed. I have been back on dialysis since."
Now 60, Debra is hoping to receive another kidney donor for a second kidney transplant. She is now a Type-1 diabetic. She and her husband of 40 years, Allan, are originally from the Bronx, New York, and moved to Parsippany in 1990. They currently reside in Denville. They both have received training for Debra to do dialysis at home, so she would not have to go to a center for treatment.
"We make our own schedule, but we must do the treatment four times a week and each session is four hours long from start to finish," she further explained. "It makes trying to get around virtually impossible because my life revolves around the dialysis treatments."
With her son recently married and with her mother residing in Florida, Debra has to find a dialysis center near any location she visits. She also has to make sure that they have an available seat for her ahead of time. Otherwise, she and Allan cannot go because it is extremely difficult traveling with a dialysis machine.
"I have posted that I am searching for a kidney on social media and have hung poster in stores, spreading my message by word of mouth," she emphasized. "I am also working with Renewal, an organization that advocates for kidney donors."
Debra added that she has had many people volunteer to be tested, including friends and family, but there have been no matches, and she does not have other siblings.
"There were two matches but one person could not donate due to health reasons and the other person had a change of mind," she added.
Debra said it has been extremely hard not having her life back. She previously worked in Manhattan for many years before working for her husband in his accounting office. She is currently working at home due to her kidney disease and COVID-19. She said her abilities have been significantly reduced due to her drained strength.
She also has volunteered in the past with many causes through her synagogue and by speaking locally on behalf of donor awareness. She has helped raise money for the National Kidney Foundation.
"I'm very dependent on people, like my husband who has been my caregiver," she said. "But I'm just trying to go back to be who I was in having people rely on me instead of my relying on them. Just trying to get myself back to living."
Debra is an A+ blood type. She can also receive A or O blood types, but even if someone is not a match, the Paired Exchange program is an option because patients with incompatible donors can swap a kidney to receive a compatible kidney. The program is used in situations where a potential donor is incompatible.
"Even if you're not a match, many hospitals have the Paired Exchange programs," she said, adding that she is working with New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Hospital and Renewal to coordinate the transplant.
The surgeons have indicated that Debra's best chance for a successful transplant is a living donor. Her case is more complicated than most since she has had two pancreas transplants due to her diabetes.
"I hope there is an angel out there willing to provide this gift of life," she added.