Some may call her a number, a statistic, that one individual in every 750 persons who is born with only one kidney. But Mary Ettenat calls herself a blessing. She enjoys life, happy to be in good health after getting a better quality of life with a kidney transplant.
Shortly after giving birth to her only child Mary fell ill. She had her first reimplantation of the ureter at the St. Maarten Medical Center in 1993 but a few years after, her health had declined.
When Mary had a second reimplantation of the ureter in 1996 in Guadeloupe, she did not think that she would have to worry about kidney failure in the future. In fact, her doctors told her that she could live a normal, healthy life for a very long time.
And she did. For 14 years after her second surgery, Mary Ettenat lived a normal, healthy life. She would have regular health checkups each year, but her kidney posed no threat to her health. Then in 2010, her kidney troubles began again for the third time.
Her medical specialist, Dr. Theo Jolles at that time, started mentally preparing Mary for the inevitable, dialysis. Still looking for a better option for her, he referred her for specialized treatment in Curacao where she underwent another surgery, this time a Double J catheter was inserted, connecting her kidney to her bladder.
A few weeks after Mary returned home she developed an infection. Again she was at the hospital in Curacao, this time to have the catheter removed. What should have worked did not. “I woke up from a three day coma (after the catheter removal) in the middle of night, surrounded by a pool of my blood. I ended up on dialysis right away, much faster than we [Dr. Jolles and I] anticipated,” Mary said
It was a difficult process for Mary. Her speech was slurred and she had to relearn simple body functions like walking. During this time, in a strange country without her family, she was experiencing dialysis treatment for her first time. “I was not prepared for this [dialysis]. Your life changes completely.”
“This is death row!” Mary said to her nurses and doctor when she came to SMMC’s dialysis department. “You come every other day for four hours, get hooked up to the machine again and again waiting for the day you die.”
When Mary started dialysis in 2010 there was no transplant coordination in St. Maarten. Persons could only get a kidney transplant if they had a donor and was able to cover the cost of travel, surgery and other expenses on their own.
“When the kidney transplant coordination began I was more than excited, I was ecstatic! They really brought us hope” said Mary.
In September 2012, Mary became the fourth patient who received a transplant, as a result of the coordination being handled by the dialysis department, between the patient insurance and the admitting hospital in the Netherlands, Erasmus MC.
Mary’s friend was willing to give her kidney but as Mary’s was not compatible to receive her friend’s kidney, a Kidney Paired Donation was coordinated. Mary’s friend gave a kidney to another patient in order for Mary to receive a kidney from that patient’s donor.
Twelve hours after the long anticipated surgery, Mary lost the kidney. During that time, another friend living in the Netherlands visited her and decided to give Mary her kidney. “I did not want it,” Mary said. “I was fearful that I would lose it again. I did not want to put somebody else through that disappointment. But she insisted and I finally accepted.”
Mary’s second kidney transplant in 2013 was a success. “I was not nervous, I trusted God, He has a way of working things out.”
The 46 year old Mary now works a full-time job and is enjoying her normal and healthy life again. She does not have diabetes, hypertension or any other chronic illness that can be destructive to the health of her kidney. She monitors what she eats in order to keep her overall health in good condition.
Mary expresses appreciation to her friends who donated a kidney to her, the dialysis department and kidney transplant team at that time Nurse Georgina Mingau, Nurse Dionne Trustfull, Nephrologist Dr. Marjolijn van Buren, Dr. Jolles and Social Worker Nathaly Pieters.
“The Dialysis Department is doing a fantastic job. The nurses are angels. They have given a lot of us second chances that we thought was lost and we would never find again. They did not sleep on it [coordinating the transplant] within a few months everything was arranged.”
Now the new team comprises of Nurse Mingau, Social Worker Rachel Hofdom and Internist Dr. Samay Nadery.
Mary also expresses appreciation to the medical staff in Holland, Drs. H.J.A.N. Kimenai and Dr Jacqueline van de Wetering for the care given to her.
When asked for her message about kidney transplantation, Mary says, “I would love for people to have the option to get a Kidney Transplant before starting dialysis. The list of patients is getting longer and it is an urgent need. There are people who would like to help someone who needs a kidney, but they are afraid; the fear of the unknown. People need to know that giving someone a kidney does not mean the end of the road for you; you are giving that individual a second chance of life. I’m happy that the hospital is making a step in giving patients this opportunity.”