LOS BANOS — The ticking time bomb in Lindsey Miller hit hard recently, sending her to the hospital and putting her on kidney dialysis.
The 23-year-old Los Banos woman was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease at age 10. The hereditary disease took her grandfather at 52, her uncle at 34 and her aunt at 27. Lindsey's mother, Tammie Miller, has been on dialysis since 2010 and needs a kidney as well.
The chances of finding a donor are slim statistically speaking, one person in Los Banos is a match for Miller. In a fortunate twist of fate, that one person just happens to sit across the dinner table from her every night.
Miller's boyfriend, Brandon Kelley, is an almost perfect match. Kidney transplant surgery is scheduled for Friday at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.
"Awesome. It was a sigh of relief," Kelley said, "just knowing that she's going to be OK."
Miller and Kelley, 25, met and began dating in early 2011. Miller suffered flulike symptoms in October of that year.
"I went through my adolescence, and I kind of put the disease in the back of my mind," Miller said. "I ignored it, because I didn't feel anything, that anything was wrong with me. I was a normal kid. When I was a teenager, I ignored it.
"It was literally like I got sick one day, and it never went away. It was so bad that I remember one day I thought I was going to die, because I had never felt anything like I felt at that time."
But Tammie Miller knew the signs. Chief among them is high blood pressure. Others include kidney stones, kidney failure, headache, frequent urination, urinary tract or kidney infections, back or side pain, an increase in abdomen size and blood in the urine. Miller rushed her daughter to the emergency room.
"She was like, 'That's it, I don't want to lose another family member. I need to know what's wrong with you,' " Miller said. "My doctor told me I was very sick, and that I shouldn't even be alive. He doesn't know why I'm alive right now. That's how sick I was."
The disease causes kidneys to develop clusters of fluid-filled sacs. The cysts are noncancerous and can affect other organs, such as the liver. The disease varies in severity.
Since the diagnosis, Miller has been on dialysis 10 hours a day. She has actively sought a donor, creating a Facebook page and scouring the Internet to no avail. It wasn't until March that Kelley was tested at California Pacific Medical Center in preparation for the Paired Donation program, where Kelley would donate to somebody who matched, and in return a match would be found for Miller. The process included blood work, a urinalysis and a psychological evaluation.
"I wanted to get tested. It was just her getting her head right to get a kidney, and getting kind of settled in," Kelley said. "She wasn't ready for it, kind of feeling sorry for herself and all that, just kind of the normal way someone's going to deal with it. Finally, she said, 'I'm ready, I want a kidney.' "
April Fool's Day joke?
The Paired Donation trade wound up never happening after Kelley answered a phone call from California Pacific in early April.
"They said that I was a match," he said. Although he and Miller are different blood types, Miller's lack of antibodies because of blood transfusions helped them match.
"The tissue typing is what we look at when we see how closely relatives are matched," said doctor William Bray of CPMC. "There's proteins on the surface of white blood cells the body uses to differentiate body tissue from one's own tissue. Bacteria or viruses don't have that on their surface, so they start to attack them. The HLA (human leukocyte antigen) system is used to compare individuals."
Kelley thought more testing needed to be done.
"I said, 'Isn't there more testing that needs to be done?' They said, 'Oh no, you're a match, we're trying to contact Lindsey so she can get her end done to get tested to make sure she's OK for surgery, make sure there's nothing wrong with her.' So that's how it all went down."
Miller wasn't buying it when Kelley told her they matched, thinking it was a late April Fool's Day joke.
"I was like, 'Are you joking with me?' I kept saying, 'Are you serious?' a million times, and I started crying hysterically," Miller said. "I couldn't believe it. I almost passed out from being shocked. It was amazing."
After final pre-op testing Thursday, both are due at California Pacific at 6 the next morning for surgery.
The donation process will be an inpatient procedure, performed under general anesthesia and completed in about five hours. Kelley will then spend two additional days in the hospital, followed by follow-ups. Donors generally are back to work in about six weeks, according to Bray.
For Miller, it means a new lease on life and a normal life, with no more worries about being attached to a machine nearly half the day. For Kelley, once he recovers from surgery, he can expect to go back to his job as a special projects coordinator at Panoche Water District in two weeks to a month. Bray said a donor's other kidney will increase blood flow and grow to as much as 150 percent of normal size, bringing function back to normal.
Living donor is better
A living donor can have a much better effect than a deceased donor. For starters, Bray said, doctors will have a matter of hours to determine if a deceased kidney is suitable, compared with months of testing for a living donor.
"Virtually all living donors donate healthy kidneys. Deceased donors, with the trauma they go through, it takes awhile for the kidney to start functioning," Bray said.
"With a living donor, the kidney is outside the body for a very short time. A deceased kidney can be outside of a body anywhere from six to 22 hours. By the time we get the recipient and donor here, many hours have passed."
No matter what happens, Kelley said, there are no regrets. A few butterflies maybe, but no regrets.
"My biggest fear in all of this was finding something wrong with me being a letdown to her, not being able to donate the kidney, and finding out there was something wrong with me," Kelley said. "But the great thing was, there wasn't."
Reporter David Witte can be reached at (209) 388-6565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.