Sister gets her life back with brother’s kidney donation

  • Heather Shaw of Greenfield and her daughter Aliviya Prevett, 7.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Heather Shaw of Greenfield. Recorder/Paul Franz

GREENFIELD — For 13 years, Heather Shaw of Greenfield dealt with kidney disease — until her kidneys finally failed and she required dialysis.

For three days a week last year, Shaw visited Yankee Family Dialysis on Wildwood Avenue to receive treatment. For three and a half months, she experienced all of the side effects including nausea, vomiting, leg cramps, headaches and insomnia.

Meanwhile, in March of last year, her brother, Kenny Perkins, 24, of Orange, agreed to donate his kidney to save his sister’s life.

“I don’t think grateful is strong enough of a word as to how I feel about what he did. At first I felt guilty that I was letting him do this for me because of all he had to go through,” said Shaw.

“But then I think that if the situation was reversed, I would do the same thing for him ... and I wouldn’t want any thanks or acknowledgement either.”

According to LifeChoice Donor Services, a nonprofit organ procurement organization for six counties in Connecticut and in western Massachusetts, kidney disease kills 90,000 Americans a year — more than breast and prostate cancer combined.

One in 10 American adults have chronic kidney disease and most don’t even know it, LifeChoice said. According to the National Kidney Foundation, high blood pressure and diabetes are the two leading causes of kidney disease. Of the more than 120,000 Americans currently on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant, 99,000 need a kidney.

Shaw’s kidney problems started when she was 17 and pregnant with her oldest daughter.

In 1999, while five months pregnant, Shaw developed hydronephrosis, which is the swelling of the kidney due to backup of urine.

At 36 weeks, Shaw had a shunt placed in her ureter. She developed pre-eclampsia a week after surgery due to stress and was admitted to have her daughter.

In the first six weeks of her life, Shaw’s daughter was in and out of the hospital suffering seizures. Focused on her daughter’s health, Shaw did not pay attention to her own medical concerns and ended up in the ICU with acute renal failure.

She was ultimately diagnosed with FSGS, focal and segmental glomerulosclerosis, a rare disease that attacks the kidney’s filtering system, causing serious scarring.

At the time, she was told she would eventually need a transplant — a prospect she imagined for her 40s.

But after three more pregnancies, her kidneys needed serious intervention and she went on dialysis.

“Being on dialysis was honestly the most awful thing I have ever had to do. I was extremely tired and sick on the days I had to go and it made it very difficult to be able to do the normal tasks like cooking or cleaning,” Shaw said.

Dialysis only makes up for 10 to 15 percent of a kidney’s function, Shaw said.

On March 13, 2013, which happens to be World Kidney Day, she received the kidney transplant from her brother.

“I was really lucky,” she says.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 On Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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