Rindee Larson was elated when she peed for the first time in more than four years on March 24.
The 29-year-old Pocatello woman shared the update on Facebook as a promising development, immediately after performing a bodily function people generally take for granted.
Having undergone a recent kidney transplant, Larson is in a high-risk population regarding the coronavirus pandemic. But amid the gloom of a national health crisis, Larson is, nonetheless, celebrating a long-shot transplant that came through, giving her renewed reason to be hopeful about the future.
“The people who know me and know what I’ve gone through were so stoked,” said Larson, a 2009 graduate of Skyline High School in Idaho Falls who is poised to graduate from Idaho State University in May.
She’s now recovering in quarantine at a Salt Lake City family and patient housing facility, accompanied by her mother.
Larson was losing hope prior to receiving a phone call at 8 p.m. on March 21. Amid her wait, while she underwent regular dialysis treatments, doctors cautioned that just 2 percent of kidneys worldwide would be her genetic match. Finding a donor, given the waiting list of people in need of transplants, would be akin to winning the lottery.
Be that as it may, Larson had the chance to video her mother’s exuberant reaction when she shared long-awaited news. By 2 a.m. the next morning, the mother and daughter were in Salt Lake City, waiting for doctors to finish transplants for other patients.
“It’s always when you least expect it,” Larson said. “When all of this (coronavirus) stuff started happening, we joked this would be the time I would get one.”
Larson was 16 when her kidneys failed. Four months later, she underwent a kidney transplant. Her body started to reject the new kidney after a year, producing antibodies to attack the foreign organ.
Her doctors treated the rejection by removing the plasma from her blood and replacing it with donated plasma free of antibodies. She had a second rejection four years later, again using donated plasma to keep the organ functioning.
In October 2015, eight years after getting the transplant, she had to start dialysis to clean her blood. Initially, she was on peritoneal dialysis — a treatment she could do from home that uses the lining of the abdomen and a cleaning solution to clean the blood. When that ceased to be effective, she started undergoing more onerous hemodialysis treatments three times per week at a center. The treatments left her so weak, she’d go home and sleep all day.
“My life really revolved around treatment,” she said.
After two and a half years on hemodialysis at a clinic, she transitioned to a new form of dialysis she could once again do at home.
Larson encountered a transformed medical culture when she arrived at University of Utah Hospital for major surgery amid a pandemic. The hospital has already ceased performing organic transplants involving live donors.
Larson said her mother’s car was stopped as they entered the hospital parking lot, where they were asked why they had come, if they had a cough or fever and whether or not they’d been in contact with anyone infected with COVID-19 — the illness caused by the new coronavirus. They encountered similar checkpoints — where they were also asked to sanitize their hands — whenever they entered a new wing of the hospital. Near the hospital entrance, they also noticed a large quarantine tent.
The staff rushed to discharge Larson about two days after her surgery, concerned about her potential exposure to coronavirus. They gave her a surgical-grade mask to wear and instructed her to stay quarantined in the patient and family housing room for at least four weeks, except for when she makes hospital or lab visits.
Other family members have been delivering their groceries.
Larson has played a lot of Candy Crush and other computer games to pass the time, relying heavily on FaceTime and Snapchat for social interaction. Mostly, she’s been working on her online coursework at ISU, where she’s on even footing with other students now that all courses have been moved online in the interest of public safety. Larson will soon graduate with a general studies degree, with an emphasis on criminology.
Larson has started taking immunosuppressants to prevent her body from rejecting her new kidney, rendering her ill-prepared to battle any nasty diseases such as COVID-19. She’ll no doubt exercise caution to avoid contracting the disease. But for the moment, her mind is mostly focused on her new state of freedom from constant treatment and excitement about the future.
She no longer has to strictly limit the amount of fluid she can consume. She doesn’t have to cover a catheter when she showers any longer, and swimming and boating are once again possibilities. Once the world gets a handle on coronavirus, she’ll be able to travel; she hasn’t been any further from home than Boise or Salt Lake City in more than four years.
“My first few days, my brain kept preparing to set up my dialysis machine,” Larson said.
Sixty-two percent of Idaho residents with driver’s licenses have checked the box agreeing to be organ donors, said Dixie Madsen a spokeswoman with YES Idaho! which is a collaboration of organizations involved in organ donation in the state.
To donate organs, a person must die in a hospital on a ventilator, usually after the brain stops functioning as a result of a traumatic injury. Skin, bones, tendons and ligaments may still be harvested from donors within one to two days of death, Madsen said.
“I’ve worked with people who have had a transplant 20 years ago and are still doing great,” Madsen said.
Larson said it’s likely she’ll need another transplant at some point in the future. She’s hopeful that by then, medical science will have devised a bionic kidney that functions well without the risk of rejection.
“There’s so much to look forward to now,” Larson said. “It’s like a whole new beginning once we get past this major health crisis.”