It was summer of 2015, and the Avina family was in the mountains for a camping trip. At midnight, sirens and blinding lights flashed on their campsite. Police officers came to the tent of Mrs. Avina, ushering her and her family all the way down the mountain where a helicopter was waiting. The Avina family was excited, yet incredibly nervous. Why? A kidney that was a possible match to Mrs. Avina had been identified and there was very little time to get to the hospital if surgery was to be performed!
Mrs. Avina's health journey began three years prior to that terrifying and exciting night in the mountains. In April of 2012, while pregnant with her third baby, Mrs. Avina was at a doctor’s appointment when the doctors found something very wrong with her kidney. Further inspection revealed that both of her kidneys were functioning at just 30%, total. The doctors gave her the diagnosis of IGA Nephropathy, a kidney disease that stops the filtration in a kidney; as a result, the kidney rejects the good things to keep your body healthy and keeps the bad things, which makes your body very unhealthy. This disease is often referred to as the Silent Disease because of its lack of noticeable symptoms. If Mrs. Avina had not been pregnant with her baby, the disease would not have been noticed until it was too late to be fixed.
Mrs. Avina was warned that her kidneys would soon fail, and they would have to be replaced by a kidney donor. And indeed that happened. On Sunday, April 6, 2014, Mrs. Avina couldn't breathe, was passing out, and coughing blood; her kidneys had failed. Immediately, she was rushed to the Emergency Room and a seven hour surgery took place to remove all her arteries for dialysis. To get a new kidney through the National Kidney Foundation would be a ten year wait. Dialysis began the very next day. It was a very painful and draining process. For two and a half years, from 5:30-8:00 am three times a week, all her blood was filtered out and then pumped back into her body. As a result, Mrs. Avina was always fatigued and always sick. At random times, her hearing would go and she'd shake uncontrollably. “Why me?” She thought. But throughout the whole ordeal, she stayed positive. “It is what it is,” she says. “Someone has it worse than me, and at least I can fix this.”
Mrs. Avina’s positive outlook wasn’t the only thing that carried her through her difficult health journey. She also had the overwhelming support of her family, her friends, and the community at St. Francis of Assisi. Families at St. Francis rallied around the Avinas, providing support through meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry, transporting the Avina children to and from school and events, lots of prayers, and more. “It’s amazing what a community can do,” says Mrs. Avina.
Her family came together in amazing ways as well. “My world was turned upside down,” says Avina. “My mom took care of my baby, my dad sat with me for hours at my dialysis treatments, and my husband worked all day and then came home and worked all night maintaining our household.” She says that her disease and the difficulties that accompanied it were often scary for her two school-age children, Kailee and Troy. When she was first diagnosed, they were just in preschool and second grade.
Ultimately, Mrs. Avina did not take the kidney that was available that intense night in the mountains. The rushed timeline and other variables made it the wrong choice. By the grace of God, it was soon discovered that her brother, Justin, was a perfect match. The relationship between Avina and her brother is very strong. Although four years apart, genetically they could be twins; this meant that they had the same blood type and many of the same genetic markers. Because of this, Justin was able to donate his kidney to Mrs. Avina. However, the process to donate his kidney was very stressful. His son had been diagnosed with eye cancer, and he wanted to be sure he wouldn’t need to be a donor for his son in the future.
The transplant surgery finally took place this past December and required a long hospital stay and isolation for both Mrs. Avina and her brother. She was only able to see her children one time during the 12 days following her surgery. In addition to the long process, her recovery required her to consume 960 pills a month to protect her now nonexistent immune system. These days, she's down to 660 a month and about 23-30 a day. To keep her body from rejecting the new kidney, she has to make big adjustments to her eating habits, and she has to stay out of the sun because she is now prone to skin cancer.
Mrs. Avina’s faith was greatly affected during her journey. Like her body, her beliefs are stronger than ever. She feels more at peace and trusts that God is always with her. “The little things don't matter anymore,” she says. Thankfully Mrs. Avina is feeling much better now, and she has just recently started returning to campus to pick up and drop off her children and visit. She has even signed up to participate in the National Kidney Foundation’s Kidney Walk on May 21. The Kidney Walk is meant to raise kidney disease awareness and fund life-saving programs. In the past she has not been healthy enough to complete the event. The St. Francis community is invited to join her team, St. Joseph Hoag Health, and run to support Mrs. Avina. Now on the other side of her surgery, Mrs. Avina is committed to becoming an advocate for the National Kidney Foundation. She wants to provide answers and comfort to others who are going through the same thing she did.
Looking forward, the Avinas are excited to go on vacations and camping trips without any limitations-something they haven't had the chance to enjoy in five years. “My family and I will never forget that camping trip,” Mrs. Avina says, laughing. “Now that the process is over, it feels like a new life-a second chance.”
To register for the Kidney Walk visit www.kidneywalk.org
Location: Irvine, CA
Team Name: St.Joseph Hoag Health.