NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— For years, MaryJo Hauser was the glue that held the special education department together in the North Salem Central School District.
The former assistant superintendent for pupil personnel retired in 2015 after 18 years at the helm, with plans to spend more time with her husband, whose business was based out of Colorado but who traveled back and forth to their home in Danbury. Her career included stints at the Lakeland School District, and in Highland, N.Y., and as a school psychologist in Dover Plains and Pawling.
Many remember her years of dedication for special education students and programs in the school. She also regularly conducted Committee for Special Education meetings and helped place special needs students in appropriate programs outside the district. Grant writing and overseeing home-schooled students rounded out her duties.
But her dreams of retirement and travel were dashed within two years after stepping down when doctors discovered she had only 13 percent of her kidney capacity and was facing the possibility of total kidney failure.
Hauser had been diagnosed with lupus at age 21 and shortly after that, the autoimmune disorder began attacking her kidneys. Years later, dye-based diagnostic tests further damaged her kidneys and doctors warned her she would need a kidney transplant, or face dialysis if the organs were reduced to just 10 percent of their capacity. So, it has quickly become a race against time to find a person willing to donate a kidney and help save Hauser’s life.
“What I’m trying to do is what’s known as a pre-emptive transplant before dialysis. I don’t want to wait until I am in complete kidney failure and don’t have many options,” Hauser explained.
The stress of her condition often takes its toll, however, and Hauser said it frequently leaves her feeling down.
“I have a trainer who is a very positive person who says if you believe it, it will happen. Being down is not an option. You attract what it is that you want,” Hauser said.
In an attempt to buy herself time with her existing kidneys, Hauser has been taking numerous precautions. She exercises five days a week and goes to a private gym to lift weights, do cardio and use the treadmill, something she credits with helping to strengthen her heart.
“Everything in the body is so connected, so to help your heart, you are helping your kidneys’ overall health as well,” said Hauser.
On Hauser’s special diet, she shuns beef and pork in favor of lighter proteins, which are easier on the kidneys. While she eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, she steers clear of fruits or foods that can affect her potassium or phosphorous levels. In between her numerous doctor appointments, Hauser volunteers at a local preschool in Danbury where she reads to preschool students.
Shortly after doctors gave her the distressing news about her kidneys, Hauser was placed on a national waiting list for a kidney donor. The wait is currently estimated to be as long as four to six years for a kidney from a deceased donor. She said research indicates that kidneys that come from a living donor are typically healthier and enable the transplant patient to live a longer, healthier life.
In addition, Hauser has looked into a possible kidney donation from family members. One of her siblings wasn’t a blood type match. One who is, has another autoimmune illness and cannot donate.
Her husband, Stephen, has some siblings who offered to donate, but halfway through the process his sister found out she had kidney issues of her own and had to withdraw. Her brother-in-law offered to donate, but he has liver issues.
Even her husband, who was a match, has been unable to donate due to blood sugar issues.
Her fear right now is that she is running out of time.
“While I feel good right now, I don’t know how I’ll feel three days from now,” Hauser mused.
Her focus is now on getting a living donor, something that could save Hauser’s life.
She is working with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston which will coordinate the transplant, if she is able to find a donor in the community.
Those interested in donating are evaluated to see if they are a match. The actual procedure is done endoscopically, so the donor does not have any external incisions that require time to heal, unlike the recipient.
Most donors are in the hospital for a couple of days and return to work in two weeks. Plus, they are monitored annually for the next year.
All expenses are paid for by insurance and through a fund at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, so there are no out of pocket cost expenses for the donor. Even the cost of accommodations is covered. Hauser says she and her husband would cover that expense for the donor.
While potential donors may be concerned about having regrets for donating a kidney, studies conducted found 80-97 percent of donors say in retrospect they would still have made the decision to donate. Studies also show that making a living organ donation does not change life expectancy for the donor, nor does it increase the risk of kidney failure.
To donate a kidney to MaryJo Hauser, and to get more information, please email Brigham and Women’s Hospital at firstname.lastname@example.org for an introductory packet.
If you have questions, you can contact Transplant Coordinator AnneMarie Dunn-Morgan at (617) 278-0030.
“There’s no greater gift to me than giving the gift of life,” said Hauser, “This is one of the best ways to do it, and not lose YOUR life,” Hauser said.